Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Video Review from Lost in the Reel

With the names of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Eva Longoria and Eugenio Derbez behind the new film “Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”, it’s a wonder how it’s getting so little attention before its release.  Additionally, it’s based on a popular book of the same name by Benjamin Alire Sáenz that is beloved by young adult readers worldwide.  So, why has this film flown so under the radar? 

Maybe because a small independent studio is distributing it or because it’s not flashy like an Amazon or Netflix production.  But, that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time.  In fact, “Aristotle & Dante” is one of the most impactful coming-of-age dramas in years, maybe even since “The Perks of Being A Wallflower”.  Whereas the recent LGBTQ+ hit “Red, White and Royal Blue” was a fantasy wish-fulfillment saga of a gay romance… This is a heartfelt, poignant, and deeply contemplative look at discovering your own self amidst cultural, societal, and familial pressures.  Not to say that either of these are the right way to explore a gay romance. It just means that they are so very different… and this is why “Aristotle & Dante” is also worth your time.  


“Aristotle and Dante” follows the titular Mexican-American duo in the summer of 1987 in El Paso, Texas.  Aristotle is a closed-off, pensive high-schooler who tries to stay away from trouble. He spends his days staring at his bedroom walls, waiting for something to happen.  Enter Dante, an eclectic and exuberant force of nature, unlike anyone Aristotle has ever met.  The two form an unbreakable bond during the summer… But, once Dante leaves for Chicago and their separation and secrets force them to grow into the men they will become… what will ultimately happen to their forsaken friendship?


The two leads here, Max Pelayo and Reese Gonzales, are extraordinary… and, admittedly, are able to navigate some stilted dialogue to provide fantastic chemistry and nuanced performances.  Pelayo, who plays Aristotle and ends up being the film’s main focus, plays this character like a 1980’s Mexican-American James Dean.  Angry, frustrated, rebellious, sensitive, and empathetic… yet hiding all of those emotions inside like a powder keg about to blow.  Gonzales on the other hand, gives such a genuine and tender performance. And his narration during his absence carries the weight needed to keep his character alive and the audience painfully missing his presence. 

The rest of the cast is also superb.  Eva Longoria as Dante’s effervescent mother captures the whimsy of a free-spirited mom and the heartache of being a parent.  The real stand-outs, though are Eugenio Derbez and Veronica Falcón as Aristotle’s ultra-traditional parents. Derbez, is almost completely unrecognizable in a role that looks thankless, but pays off in spades by the end. 


One of the truly great things about “Aristotle & Dante”, and what really separates it from many other movies in this genre… is how it tackles the parent-child bond.  Most coming-of-age flicks focus on the kids; their parents are just an afterthought or barely present, dysfunctional beings.  This film treasures these parents and the gifts they bestow upon their children, but also recognizes the unbearable weight of past traumas they might inflict upon them.  Add to that the heaviness of religion, societal norms, toxic masculinity, and not just American culture, but also learning to meld that with one’s own Hispanic culture… And that gives birth to a film grappling with so many personal, intimate ideas… But, exploring them in a way that feels universal.


Don’t let that make you think that “Aristotle & Dante” is just a dark and dreary drama.  Because it is anything but. The film has a fantastical, airy feel to it, as it speeds past different milestones in these kids’ lives… like first kisses and awkwardness at parties, a new car that symbolizes freedom, fast food jobs, camping in the desert, and connecting to a dog when one needs connection. 

There are times when you want “Aristotle & Dante” just to slow down a bit so you can live in these moments more… which is one of my biggest complaints about the film, but you cherish each one, all the same.  Director and writer Aitch Alberto is able to capture that angsty, heart-tugging, unbearable feeling of when your a kid and life is moving so fast, but somehow not fast enough, in a way that few filmmakers before her have been able to.  It really is impressive work.

The love story at the core of “Aristotle & Dante” is not a sexual one, or one bore out of malice, trauma or jealousy.  It is such a pure story of young love, that some people might be too jaded to appreciate it.  But, if you’re a fan of the coming-of-age genre, whether young or old, and love a sweeping romance that knows no bounds…, then “Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” is a must-see.  Please don’t sleep on this movie.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe will be Exclusively In Theaters Friday September 8th, 2023.

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