In “Club Sandwich,” 15-year-old Hector (Lucio Gimenez Cacho) and his young, hip, single mother, Paloma (Maria Renee Prudencio), seem perfectly content spending their off-season resort vacation lounging around the deserted pool and playing card games in their hotel room. But Hector’s emerging sexuality is the elephant in the room that only becomes more apparent once a girl his own age shows up. Third-time writer/director Fernando Eimbcke takes the fleeting adolescent vacation romance a step further by showing how coming-of-age can affect the parents who are powerless to stop it.
Eimbcke’s script has very little dialog, but every beautifully sparse scene speaks volumes about its characters. We understand everything we need to know about Hector and Paloma’s situation in the film’s first few minutes without a hint of exposition. Paloma has clearly been raising Hector on her own for, if not his whole life, a very long time. They are financially strapped which is why they find themselves at a nearly deserted resort during the off-season. They spend a lot of time alone together. So much so that Hector makes up excuses for returning to the room without her so that he can become better acquainted with his hand. It’s not clear how long Hector has been coming into his own (sorry), but his emerging manhood catches Paloma off guard. She squeals with a mixture of fascination and horror when she notices a tiny patch of fur forming above his upper lip and begs him not to shave it, lest it grow in thicker.
The rift in their relationship widens when Hector meets Jazmin (Danae Reynaud Romero), a girl who boasts that very specific brand of awkward assertiveness that comes from being a smart only child with very old parents. She invites him back to her room under the pretense that the sunscreen she has applied to his body needs to “soak in.” She tells him they are sitting on the very bed in which she was conceived while her nurse-like stepmother flits around behind them, tending to her elderly, possibly ailing father. Her seduction technique is unusual, but effective on a boy who recognizes a rare (if not inaugural) opportunity for physicality. It’s not love. It’s a practical arrangement of two sexually inexperienced adolescents who just want to check a couple of things off their to-do list.
Regardless, it takes a couple of false starts before they seal the deal. Meanwhile, Paloma gets wise to the true nature of their interactions and panics, waffling between attempts to facilitate their union and prevent it. She wants Hector to be happy, but she is unable to suppress the fact that she’s not ready to let go of her little boy. You can see the wheels turning in her head, fast-forwarding through the rest of his childhood to the part where he leaves her for good. This isn’t a tale of “parents just don’t understand” so much as “parents understand all too well.” It’s refreshing to see the theme explored from both sides and with such subtle veracity.