After its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last January, the documentary feature film Darling was acquired by the recently launched Disney Original Documentary imprint, and is currently showing for free in select theaters in the Los Angeles area. I saw Darling this afternoon in Glendale and I didn’t know much about what to expect from the film, but I left after having had an eye-opening experience and learned a lot about what it must be like to be the first born citizen child of an immigrant family.
Darling focuses on Doris Muñoz, the twenty-something daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants who settled in the southern California city of San Bernardino in the early 1990s. Doris’s family has been through a difficult time due to the recent deportation of her older brother, but she too finds herself living the dream thanks to her work as a manager for the up-and-coming Mexican-American singer-songwriter known as Cuco.
After a dramatic and unexpected change in Doris’ career path, she finds herself searching for answers on two fronts: how to get back on the right track in the music industry, and how to help her family members with their ongoing immigration issues. Doris repeatedly visits her brother in Tijuana, bringing her supplies and home-cooked food, while she wishes her parents could join her on her trip. At the same time, she is helping her beloved father and mother navigate the endless bureaucracy of her green card applications, worried that they may never receive the approval they have been seeking from the United States government. And while most of this documentary is about Doris finding her way through those tribulations, it also focuses on a talented young musician named Jacks Haupt from Dallas, Texas, similarly the daughter of first-generation immigrants.
Once she’s split from Cuco, Doris contacts Jacks online and offers to become her manager, taking her to Los Angeles for meetings with independent record labels, glamorous photo shoots, and a series of parties celebrating her (hopefully) imminent. success as a recording artist. But Haupt’s pragmatic parents aren’t as supportive as Doris in following her dream: she receives phone calls from them accusing her of wasting time and money traveling to Los Angeles. themselves to make her goals a reality.
Darling it’s a story about immigrant life first and foremost, but it also compellingly documents what it takes to pursue the American Dream. There is a particularly heartbreaking but also hilarious scene where Doris’s brother calls his own now estranged children and asks his daughter what she wants to do when she grows up. She replies, “Something that’s easy but pays a lot of money.” And we in the audience laugh because that sounds so familiar, isn’t that what everyone wants? But seriously, what Doris knows (and what she did know while she was managing Cuco) is that the real dream is to get paid well doing something you love.
The real thrill comes in the last half hour of Darling, in which the Muñoz family’s search for permanent residence in the US takes a sudden turn, I’m not going to advance in which direction. And now we in the audience cry along with Doris’s parents (Are these tears of sadness or joy? Again, I’ll refrain from spoiling that in this review), whom we’ve come to respect and admire during this 100-minute exam. of the Mexican-American way of life. I will say that the film leaves us a bit unsure as to whether or not Jacks Haupt achieves the kind of success he’s after – a quick Google search after the film revealed that he hasn’t quite reached Cuco’s levels of fame yet, but the point is that Doris, Jacks and their respective families found a place where they are free to pursue those dreams. But despite the somewhat abrupt conclusion (I guess it’s never a bad idea to leave us wanting more), Darling is an extremely moving and endlessly fascinating look at an underrepresented corner of American life.
Darling plays for free next week at the Laemmle Theaters in Glendale and Santa Monica, California. For additional information and to purchase tickets in advance, be sure to visit the Laemmle official website.
My rating: 4 out of 5 cheese quesadillas.