Director: Julio Torres Screenwriter: Julio Torres Cast: Julio Torres, Tilda Swinton, RZA, Greta Lee, Catalina Saavedra, James Scully Distributor: A24 Running Time: 98 min. MPAA: R

There’s a love for the weird within the surreal charm of Problemista. It recognizes the issues of the world and the sources of our anxiety but tries to place it in an understandable state coated with coaxing whimsy. Here is a film about the problems of immigration, isolation, money, and the struggle to prove yourself. Through it all, creativity saves the souls of the unfortunate and draws the more genuine people together.

There’s an enthusiastic drive to the dreams of the quietly quirky Alejandro (Julio Torres). He immigrated from El Salvador to New York City with big ideas for becoming a toy developer. His ideas, however, would make Willy Wonka blush. His toys are all designed to teach kids unorthodox lessons about disappointment and awkwardness, ranging from a deflating toy truck to a Cabbage Patch doll with an uncomfortable relationship with social media. These toys feel honest about the world but are too weird for Hasbro. His only hope of staying in New York City is to find employment and someone to sign his work visa.

Into Alejandro’s life comes the overly frantic Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), struggling to preserve the memory of her frozen artist husband, Bobby (RZA). Seeking to put on a gallery show of Bobby’s egg paintings, Alejandro jumps at this opportunity when seeking work. The only problem is that Elizabeth is a mess, still stuck in her ways of preserving her husband’s artwork through dated means like Filemaker Pro. Finding herself untrustworthy of the world, she immediately jumps to wild conclusions, like accusing others of stealing her car keys when she loses them. She needs someone like Alejandro to walk her through her cluttered purse calmly, searching for one key among many.

Since Elizabeth doesn’t seem like the best employer and is slow on signing his immigration papers, Alejandro resorts to other odd jobs via Craigslist. He tries out pitching products and fulfilling weird sex requests. He rents out his room in a crowded space of other young people. Nothing seems to work for him, and it feels like Alejandro is trapped in an unwinnable situation. Yet he pushes on, often picturing his problems as fantastical manifestations. In his mind, Craigslist isn’t a website but a temptress of a genie (Larry Owens), speaking seductively with promises of money. His encounters with Elizabeth often find him imagining himself as a knight and Elizabeth as a fire-breathing dragon. Despite his troubles, Alejandro’s imagination never dies.

The interactions between Alejandro and Elizabeth reflect the relationship between those with autism and those with ADHD, respectively. Although never directly diagnosed as such, their traits are highly vocal. Alejandro exists in a steadfast state of muted confidence while still being lost in his imaginative and clever world. Elizabeth finds her paranoid and scattered in her fast-paced discussions and dealings, often with heated arguments in between. Speaking with Elizabeth seems like walking on eggshells, but Alejandro can look past all that to see someone who cares a lot. He helps her bring out that tender side that others do not see, while Elizabeth’s spitfire nature helps Alejandro grow a spine big enough to make his dreams a reality.

The offbeat humor works surprisingly well for highlighting the absurdity of Alejandro’s odyssey through New York. His imagination is intriguing to get lost within, as he depicts the immigration process as a neverending and impossible escape room. These seemingly surreal moments make sense of a complex and cruel world. Some of these sequences are exceptionally hilarious in their staging, as when Alejandro pleads with a Bank of America employee to acknowledge that an unfair transaction of charging was unfair. Rather than admit as such, the employee is depicted holding up a gun and citing her allegiance to a corporate entity.

Problemist becomes so enduring for its autistic and ADHD-coded characters amid its offbeat dramedy that tries to make sense of our unfair world. There are some genuine moments of dry comedic bits, from the strange toy ideas to the odd dialogue, but there’s another layer of heart and charm oozing through every scene. The performances by Tilda Swinton and Julio Torres are incredible for how they play off each other, loaded with an underlying tenderness that triumphs over their arguments about how nobody uses Filemaker Pro anymore. With the bonus of Isabella Rossellini as the earnest narrator, I found myself unbelievably warmed by this film I could have easily gotten lost in its weirdness. Through it all, two social outcasts find the good in each other and witness a glow that only the two of them can see. What a wondrous way to have that quirky cake and eat it, too.

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