Review: The Milagro Beanfield War - 1370°C
Jun. 13th, 2007
11:29 pm - Review: The Milagro Beanfield War
Before the film out at my local park, there was some recorded music on and my neighbors were having a hot-pepper eating contest. They ate two each of jalapeños and serrano peppers and then tried to see how many habaneros they could eat. The guy who won ate 9. This is a pretty big deal for Minnesotans, who have notoriously bland palates, and most of the contestants gave up after the serranos.
The Milagro Beanfield War is set in 1980s New Mexico in an impoverished, northern, fictional town called Milagro. The government has taken away the town's right to use their local stream for irrigation purposes, and has made a back-room deal with a developer to turn the entire town and surrounding area into a fancy-schmancy resort. As a result, all of the crops have dried up, most of the farmers have sold their land to the government, nearly everyone's out of work, and the town is dying.
When one of these out-of-work residents, Jose, accidentally breaks a valve blocking the water to his father's old bean field, he decides to ignore the laws and replant the beans. Chaos ensues as the townfolk decide whether they support Jose's efforts and the Forest Service police force tries to figure out how to stop him while keeping the matter out of the public eye. In the end, the beans survive to be harvested, and the mayor pulls his support for the deal with the developers.
Complete with heartfelt ending, The Milagro Beanfield War delivers on its opening implications that David will, yet again, best Goliath while managing to maintain a tense and interesting atmosphere. It addresses very serious and pertinent issues about water rights, racial strife, development problems, and bureaucratic interference while maintaining a good sense of humour and a fairly accurate portrayal of small-village New Mexican life. Thoroughly enjoyable was the appearance of Christopher Walken as the Big Bad, the veritable menagerie of quirky older native New Mexican as mostly comic relief (one of them buys bullets with food stamps), and a reliance on magical realism to move the plot along. To its immense credit, the film had not even a shred of love-story to distract from the actual plot. It's also a gold-mine for quotes: "this posse couldn't find itself!," "those guys vote six, seven times a piece," and one that went along the lines of "the scorpions will nest in your shoes if they leave them there, and be sure not to lean back too far on the seat in the outhouse, or let your testicles dangle up under the wooden seat...black widows" among them.
It was a bit too heavy handed on the racial front--literally all of the evil developers, government employees, and forest service folk were of the "fat cat whitey" variety while the locals often came off as ignorant and intolerant--but this was somewhat mitigated by the white Sociology grad student and the estranged Lawyer who help Milagro's people in their cause and the spunky, bright, activist native New Mexican woman who rallies her people at the end. We are also left to wonder what exactly the town's victory will bring it; the beanfield is likely too small to yield anything but a symbolic crop, but the movie clearly ends on an upbeat note.
All-in-all, the film was cute and well-done. As one who almost always positively loathes happy "everything worked out" endings, I very much enjoyed The Milagro Beanfield War. I especially recommend it to the New Mexico-dwellers among you; you'll feel happily at home in the film's setting as well as recognise issues that are still relevant in the state today.
I can't wait until next Wednesday (Waiting for Guffman!!). My neighborhood association and the local artist co-op (in the sense of work-space and community, not in the sense of housing or food buying) are putting these films on, and they promise silly activities and decent music as well as the films. Perhaps i'll even meet one of my neighbors.