Review by James Lindorf
Nona (Sulem Calderon), is a young woman living alone in a Honduran shantytown. Both her father and brother were killed by local gangs, and her mother is trying to raise the money necessary to bring her to the United States. She works at a morgue prepping the deceased for viewings and burials, and she dreams of being an esthetician. Her life changes quickly after a chance encounter with Hecho (Jesy McKinney), a handsome traveler who’s nursing a broken heart. Intrigued by the young man and hopeful to see her mother again Nona accepts his offer to leave her home and head to the United States. The pair travels north by car, bus, boat, and by foot through Guatemala and Mexico. With so many new experiences Nona feels she is living a fairytale, but when Hecho’s true intentions become clear, her journey turns into a fight for survival. Nona was created by husband and wife director/producer team Michael Polish (The Astronaut Farmer) and Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush) to put a face to one of Central America’s biggest threats. Nona opened in NYC on December 7th and will premiere in LA on the 14th.
Polish who also wrote the film tells the story through flashbacks. In the opening scene, we meet a terrified Nona being questioned by an unnamed authority figure wanting to know how she came to the US. After the bleak opening when the film jumps back to Honduras, and until the 3rd act, the film is beautiful. The Latin music over footage of the daily lives for people in her small town, the hustle of street vendors, the dilapidated structures, the lovely countryside, and simple meals of rice and beans all paint an image of the good or bad of life for Nona. While no gang violence is shown, there are second and firsthand accounts that let you know everyone is living in varying levels of fear.
Calderon as Nona is sweet, charming and kind of weird, she talks to mannequin heads like Tom Hanks spoke to Wilson. Mckinney’s Hecho is also charismatic, he is attractive, but he is either complaining or telling an unbelievable tale of heartache. The story itself isn’t farfetched, it is the way it is told. That could be a problem with the actor and his delivery, or a character flaw of Nona’s. She may be too wrapped up in the fairytale and the excitement to notice that none of Hecho’s actions or emotions correspond to his words.
The biggest issue with the film is its pacing. Polish doesn’t really imbue his film with a sense of time. Does their trip take days, weeks, or months? The relationship between the two characters never progresses after their initial meeting as well. Do they have romantic feelings for each other, do they think of each other as a sibling? It is never explored or developed. Instead, the time is spent trying to make the audience love Nona, so you feel the impact of the 3rd act even more.
Unfortunately, Polish also didn’t want to get down and dirty with the horrors Nona is experiencing either. You are left with no doubt that she is going through something awful, but the extent, intensity, and duration of it are all left up in the air.
Polish made a good film that hits a lot of the emotions, you’ll feel sad for Nona, mad at other characters and you’ll even have a few laughs when they joke about South American stereotypes. By not truly embracing the horrors of the gang violence in Honduras and how Nona is terrorized as she nears the US border the film loses its chance to be great.