An Essential Gift (Un Regalo Esencial)

The film opens in the near future, or the year 2025, as Alejandro (Norval Calvo) is giving relationship advice by reading a story from a book to his heartbroken teenage grandson Josue (Isaias Badilla). The story he tells is set in 1985 and is about a hopeful dancer, Alejandro (Pablo Rodriguez), and the love of his life Jazmin (Viviana Calderon), a cabaret singer also trying to make it big.

The film mainly stays in the ’80s following the two lovers, from their first “awkward” meeting and humble beginnings to their passionate romance and when they start working together by combining their talents to create a hit show that will help launch their careers. They share something special despite the usual ups and downs of their lives as a couple but everything changes when Jazmin, with the help of ex-boyfriend, music manager Felipe (Mauricio Hoffmann), is propelled to fame after getting a big offer to record an album in his studio. Alejandro will not only be jealous of her connection to Felipe but is more likely angry that she has to stop working on their shows as he is now struggling to become as successful as he dreamt (with her).

In spite of being far away from being the most righteous character, he was always fairly suitable, until becomes some kind of villain with a “mean-spirited jackass attitude” that eventually drive Jazmin away.

“…stays in the ’80s following the two lovers, from their first ‘awkward’ meeting…to their passionate romance and when they start working together…”

Josue, in 2025, will learn a valuable lesson from this story, receiving an “essential gift” from his grandfather that will open his eyes or help him, not only to seduce a girl he likes in high-school but hopefully, be a better person.

As inspiring and lovely as it sounds, due to the obvious filmmaker’s commitment to making an epic film, it is unfortunate to say that, in the end, there is little good to say about An Essential Gift.

This movie purpose and origins might be noble, but sadly, it was truly a “cringe fest” infested with embarrassing cheesy moments with some Life Itself vibes (the 2018 monumental it’s-all-connected-nonsense flop).

Every character, except perhaps for Jazmin, are paper-thin and the actors looked like they came straight from telenovelas or another movie targeted at “conventional hopeless romantic types still living like it’s 1985.” Whether the blame is to put on the performances or the directions given, it’s acted like a commercial where exaggeration is key to make people want to buy your product – or in this case, watch your movie – because it is “sooo” amazing!

People and “film folks” at large take pleasure in making fun and demeaning musicals no matter how good they are, and alas, An Essential Gift is not helping with a story as inauthentic as it is half-baked, piling pathetic clichés about love and “being an artist.”

“…it ironically feels like the perfect justification directly aimed at those not ‘getting’ the film.”

Its score, being decent, will probably be enjoyed by few, but it is regrettably not particularly memorable.

Many good decisions were also quickly canceled by disappointing ones in the same department.

Sets were well conceived and populated by descent 80s props but terrible hair, makeup, and costume choices contributed to a cheap-looking visual (as if that decade was not bad enough for fashion already!)

The cinematography, being quite pleasant at times, was also very uneven as they were trying too hard to “play with lighting and colors” that it ended up being more annoyingly noticeable than admirable.

An Essential Gift viewing experience might be best encapsulated by what a character proclaims at a turning point in the movie: ‘don’t take it personally, some people can’t appreciate real talent.’ And it ironically feels like the perfect justification directly aimed at those not “getting” the film. Some will appreciate the real talent of its cast & crew, while some will not; so they should not take it personally!

An Essential Gift (2018) Directed by Jose Mario Salas Boza. Starring Viviana Calderón, Pablo Rodríguez, Isaias Badilla, Norval Calvo.

3/10

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