Though the Toronto Film Festival doesn't have an official competition section, its People's Choice Award winners have been a reliable bellwether for movies that will enjoy some degree of popular acclaim: Tsotsi, Hotel Rwanda, Whale Rider, Amélie, Life Is Beautiful, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Given that history, a full-scale investigation needs to be launched over how Bella managed to take the award in 2006. What sort of ballot-stuffing scandal could explain how this gooey pro-life advertisement, masquerading as a cheap-looking Mexican telenovela, robbed the likes of Volver, Away From Her, Borat, Rescue Dawn, and other popular favorites? Because if it weren't for that award, there's no chance the film would ever surface for an arthouse run, which is why this fluke victory is emblazoned all over its promotional materials. In Oscar terms, consider it an Around The World In 80 Days-like aberration.
Once a major soccer star until a tragic accident sabotaged his life and career, Eduardo Verastegui now works as a chef for his brother Manny Perez, the overbearing manager of an upscale Mexican restaurant in Manhattan. Having had his pride and vanity stripped away, Verastegui generally keeps his head down and hides behind a bushy beard of shame. When his hot-tempered brother fires waitress Tammy Blanchard for being late one too many times, Verastegui forfeits his uniform in protest and follows the young woman out the door. The two become fast friends (with benefits pending), and Verastegui comes to support the lonely Blanchard when she reveals to him that she's pregnant. Uncertain of what to do with the baby, Blanchard looks to Verastegui for advice and he brings her to meet his vibrant extended family, which gives her reason to believe that she may not be alone after all.
Director Alejandro Monteverde and his co-screenwriter Patrick Million don't provide much in the way of melodramatic twists; they just set 'em up and knock 'em down. Verastegui is in need of redemption for past mistakes and reconciliation after breaking with his brother; Blanchard needs someone to shepherd her through a difficult crossroads in her life; and these two crazy kids just might find the answers in each other. The emotions at play in Bella are no doubt heartfelt—and must have resonated with a few hundred people, anyway—but they're so cut-and-dried that the mawkish script virtually writes itself. Only the food really intoxicates and technology has yet to provide a fork by which to sample it.