Some of the best stories you’ll ever hear can be attributed to a night of drinking as people leave their inhibitions behind and open up to friends. Of course, there is the off chance that what your hearing is not exactly true, but occasionally someone reveals a fascinating and authentic aspect of their life, and you begin to think “this would make a great movie.” It happened to filmmaker Heidi Ewing (“Jesus Camp”) whose friends Iván and Gerardo began to tell her their story, one filled with romance, adventure, and heartbreak that begins in Mexico and ends in America. “I Carry You with Me” is an unforgettable memoir reminiscent of Chloé Zhao’s slice-of-life filmmaking, blending actors with non-actors to tell a love story based on real people and actual events.

In 2012, Ewing was at the Sundance Film Festival for the premiere of the documentary she co-directed with Rachel Grady “Detropia.” Her friends Iván and Gerardo were also there for support. She met the gay couple seven years earlier at a bar in New York, the beginning of a friendship. Ewing thought she knew them well, but while at Sundance the two men opened up about the struggle of growing up gay in Mexico, their upbringing by two stern fathers, how they met, and their laborious journey to the United States. Their lives are now the basis for Ewing’s narrative feature debut which stars Mexican actors Armando Espitia and Christian Vázquez as the men in their 20s during the most transformative chapter of their lives. Yael Tadeo and Nery Arredondo play the boyhood versions while the real Iván and Gerardo appear as themselves in the film’s third act.

“Carry” was shot in New York and five cities in Mexico including Puebla City, the location of the nightclub where Iván (Armando Espitia), accompanied by his best friend Sandra (Michelle Rodríguez), meets Gerardo (Christian Vazquez). The two men catch each other’s gaze from across the room and after a night of getting to know each other, they fall into a relationship.

Iván, an aspiring chef who went to culinary school, is stuck working as a dishwasher at a restaurant. He longs to put his cooking skills to use in the kitchen, but the boss just passed him over for a promotion, instead, giving the job to a relative. Personally, life is not much better. Iván’s baby momma is threatening to take away visitation rights to their 5-year-old son after discovering his relationship with Gerardo. Frustrated by the way life is going, Iván decides to leave Mexico and his family to start over in America.

Ewing and co-writer Alan Page Arriaga do a terrific job of illustrating the lives of the two gay men, turning their story into a beautiful and enthralling tale that covers the struggles that many members of the LGBTQ+ community face. From discrimination to non-acceptance by family, both Iván and Gerardo grew facing homophobia and stern fathers who dealt harshly with them as young boys.

The film also covers the immigration plight facing our Southern borders as Iván chases the American dream. Like so many others, he pays a coyote to help him and Sandra cross the border but things don’t go as smoothly as planned. Gerardo also runs into roadblocks when he tries to enter the U.S. legally, it doesn’t matter that he’s well-educated and works as a teacher. ‘Carry” vividly points out how most immigrants make huge sacrifices by leaving their homeland for an opportunity in America. Both men must give up seeing their families and for Iván, that means never seeing his son grow from a boy into a man.

It’s easy for many of us who grew up here in the South to judge the scores of immigrants making news headlines without feeling empathy. Iván and Gerardo’s story gives the countless others here in America illegally, a face and a chance for us to understand the motivation and the high price paid for an ounce of freedom in the land of opportunity.

Like Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” which blends realism with drama, “Carry” uses footage from the couple’s real-life and blends it with new scenes shot by cinematographer Juan Pablo Ramirez as actors bring Iván and Gerardo’s love story to life. There’s a surreal quality to the film that’s enhanced by the soft hues of blue that film the frame and Jay Wadley’s dreamy score.

“I Carry You With Me” reminds us that we won’t always be around the ones we love the most but they are a part of us forever. Iván and Gerardo’s story isn’t glamourous, life rarely is, but it’s moving and at times beautiful.

(3 ½ stars)

Now showing in select theaters. Arrives on Blu-ray September 21st

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Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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