The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Review | Julio Torres is here to save us with ‘Problemista’

Photo Courtesy of IMDb

Rating: 10 eggs out of 10


When looking for a title for his first feature film, Salvadoran comedian Julio Torres considered “My Little Problems” followed by “13 Eggs.” Ultimately, he settled on “Problemista.” 

This past weekend, “Problemista” opened in theaters after a delay due to the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike, having originally been scheduled to open last August. Its production company, A24, known for titles such as “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” “The Zone of Interest” and “Past Lives,” chose to delay the release. 

“Problemista” follows the story of Alejandro (Julio Torres), a Salvadoran immigrant and aspiring toymaker, in New York City searching for a work visa. The movie explores his whimsical journey in America, where he meets a possible sponsor, the eccentric Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), and they both get into an egg-filled adventure. 

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Torres, the mind behind the movie, is a one-of-a-kind artist. His comedy challenges both the genre and the viewer. While this is his first foray into a feature-length film, he’s no stranger to art — in all its forms. 

Torres had his start as a writer on the long-running sketch comedy variety show “Saturday Night Live,” the wizard behind such monumental sketches as “Papyrus” featuring Ryan Gosling and “Wells for Boys” with Emma Stone.

Besides this, Torres wrote and starred in his 2019 HBO comedy special “My Favorite Shapes,” where he plays with the space-themed set and shows the audience his favorite shapes through golden commentary. Every one of his productions is a breath of fresh air.

Coincidentally, he mentions Swinton in this very special, with whom he’d later collaborate with on “Problemista.” In the film, Swinton plays the kooky Elizabeth, a modern yet alternative Don Quixote to Alejandro’s Sancho Panza. Pairing her outlandishness with Alejandro’s awkwardness, the humor shines through.

The movie does not shy away from Alejandro’s battle with the immigration system in the United States, which could’ve turned into a sour drama under a director with a less colorful vision. Instead, Torres brightens the silver screen with a surrealist comedy, playing with elements of magical realism.

Magical realism is a well-known genre in Latin American art, whether in literature or visual media. Think Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “100 Years of Solitude” or Alfonso Arau’s film “Like Water for Chocolate,” based on the book of the same name.

This genre is the perfect filter to explore the inherent absurdity surrounding the American Dream and the odyssey of immigration. It’s a clever and engaging way to explain such a complex issue.

Take a scene from the “Problemista” trailer, narrated by Isabella Rossellini, where Alejandro has to climb an infinite maze of staircases to get a work permit. Sounds about right.

With such a range in the entertainment world, it strikes strange that Torres isn’t as mainstream as other comics, like John Mulaney and Bo Burnham, who have become so infused with internet humor and Gen-Z lexicon. 

“Problemista” is shown with Spanish subtitles across select cinema locations, like AMC Theaters. Whether this was a deliberate motion from Torres and his team or a choice from the overlords at AMC (Nicole Kidman?), it makes an effort to include otherwise overlooked audiences.

Taking a look at the Academy Awards this year, with Emma Stone being honored with the Best Actress title for “Poor Things,” it appears the movie industry is leaning towards the eccentric, towards something a bit more “Problemista.” The days of tired comedies are, hopefully, over. 

With a beautiful soundtrack, including the standout “Huele a Fraude” by OHYUNG — which is already on track to become my Spotify Wrapped’s top song — “Problemista” swathes you in a magical aura.

“Problemista” shines a spotlight on a new and refreshing voice in comedy, inviting audiences to take a chance, hop on the wavelength and enjoy the ride.


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