It shares its love for gay themes and lucha libre.

This month, I’ve seen two films about Mexican legends, who have their own dreams to accomplish. “A Million Miles Away” starred Michael Pena as the first Mexican-American astronaut Jose Hernandez, and now, “Cassandro” stars Gael Garcia Bernal as gay amateur wrestler Saul Armendariz, who transitions into the exotico Cassandro. Seeing this under Roger Ross Williams’ (“Life Animated”) writing and direction expresses its themes and sportsmanship.

It’s one that left me thinking because while the screenplay isn’t perfect when it comes to some underdeveloped elements, the universally excellent performances still shine, and bring out the characters in honest ways.

The movie begins with Saul living with his mother (Perla De La Rosa) in El Paso, Texas, and occasionally sneaking across the border of Mexico to do some lucha libre wrestling. He’s looking for more recognition, and receives some training from Sabrina (Roberta Colindrez), who suggests that he competes as an exotico, and he gives himself the name Cassandro.

It’s truthful that his size would get him defeated and that his homosexuality would get him some gay slurs, but he eventually earns the respect he deserves.

Among his other homosexuality pathos, given its 80s time period, his religious father left him as a child when he came out of the closet, and he has an affair with a married man-a fellow luchador named Gerardo (Raul Castillo), who can’t come out, and a romance with Felipe (Bad Bunny), who is tasked with getting closer to him by a shady promoter.

The would-be romance in “Cassandro” isn’t as compelling as the wrestling dreams, which is why I can’t give the movie a full 4-star rating. But it does offer the right qualities regarding Saul’s life and ambitions, his training with Sabrina, and his relationship with his mother. Bernal adjusts quite well to the role without taking home the star power. He is a character actor, in the tradition of “Amores Perros,” “Babel,” and “Coco,” among others, who has his dialogue and vulnerabilities. And “Cassandro” is able to resonate with his unique talents.

I’ve never heard of Colindrez, I found out she identifies herself as a queer and butch, and she delivers a performance you would like to see more of in the film. Even the supporting performances from Castillo and Bunny are able to thrive on their underdeveloped romances with Bernal.

There’s a fine line between challenges and dreams. You need to figure out how you want to use your optimism, and how to reach the right audience. We’re able to see Saul transition himself into Cassandro, and we’re able to see how his narrative uses the right themes. Especially since its time period has been complicated with gays coming out of the closet. At the time, it would have been a miracle to find those who care for them for who they are on the inside. Unfortunately, there is still some homophobia in the world, but this movie isn’t so indulged in that, which is refreshing. “Cassandro” isn’t just about the title wrestler’s homosexuality, but also about his choices and goals, and how he makes it to the top.

Williams and co-writer David Teague both intend to remind people of the wrestler’s story, or introduce him to those who haven’t heard of him. I’ve never heard of Cassandro, but I was interested to know his story.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

Now Playing in Select Theaters and Streaming on Prime Video This Friday

This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes.

Categories: Biography, Drama, Sport

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