When Salvadoran Alejandro (Julio Torres), who dreams of inventing toys within Hasbro’s talent incubator program, inadvertently unplugs the cryogenic pod of artist Bobby (RZA) at his actual job at FreezeCorp, his boss Sharon (Kelly McCormack) is forced to fire him, setting off a ticking clock on his immigrant Visa.  But on his way out he has a serendipitous run-in with Bobby’s wife Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), a woman who has turned complaining into an art form and is determined to mount an art show of Bobby’s thirteen inexplicable paintings of eggs in order to raise enough money to keep him frozen.  Alejandro will endure as her assistant and learn the value of being a “Problemista.”

Laura's Review: B+

If you’ve seen HBO’s ‘Los Espookys,’ which Julio Torres created, you’ll have an idea of his off kilter sense of humor and eccentric storytelling style.  With his first feature film, Torres proves to have a visual sensibility akin to French director Michel Gondry combined with the intellectual puckishness of Charlie Kaufman.  Seemingly random offshoots and bizarre asides may be baffling in the moment, but Torres pulls everything together for an emotionally satisfying finale and a conclusion you may not have seen coming.  That he snared Tilda Swinton as his cinematic partner in crime his first time out of the gate also foretells a promising filmmaking future.

Alejandro’s creativity was nurtured by his artist mother Dolores (Catalina Saavedra, “The Maid”) as a child, illustrated in magical realism scenes as if conceived by a grade schooler, and the adult will continue to check in with her as he makes his perilous way through New York City.  Narrator Isabella Rossellini leads us through several of Alejandro’s hilariously bizarre toys conceptualized as an antidote to those designed with ‘too much fun in mind’ before we shift to the reality that is his current about-to-be-lost job.  His living arrangements consist of a room in a shared apartment with a whimsical roommate which he will later sublet to save money while sleeping on the living room couch.  He’ll also take on various oddball side jobs on craigslist as he watches Bank of America charge fees on his negative balance at the ATM machine.

But it is the whirlwind of shrieking victimized negativity that is Elizabeth, occasionally pictured as a pantomime fire-breathing dragon, who will become Alejandro’s primary focus as she dangles the possibility of Visa sponsorship in front of him like a carrot on a stick.  Intent on gathering Bobby’s ‘Thirteen Eggs,’ she insists that only Filemaker Pro be utilized to organize the project, calls Apple support demanding they do something about the photos she keeps losing and calls a waiter (Jack P. Raymond) away from another table claiming she’s been ignored the second she sits down.  Somehow Alejandro manages to not only soothe situations, but Elizabeth herself.  For his efforts, she acquires new assistant Bingham (James Scully, “Fire Island”) to drive her for a weekend away, but he doesn’t last long, admitting to Alejandro that ‘no one knows shit about Filemaker Pro.’  Alejandro’s most impressive feat is in acquiring the last of Bobby’s paintings from the artist, Dalia ("Past Lives'" Greta Lee), Bobby gave it to while cheating on Elizabeth.  And when Alejandro’s made her dream come true, Elizabeth leaves him high and dry in a very surprising turn of events.   And yet…

Torres is the calm to Swinton’s storm, the yin to her yang.  His Alejandro accomplishes things quietly, his walk a bop that seems to float, but the Alejandro who meekly accepts one injustice after another is changed after his experience with Elizabeth, something we witness when he confronts Hasbro Executive Brian (Miles G. Jackson) before the film’s amusing coda.  Swinton, her performance brilliantly accented by her half grown out shocking pink perm and costume designer Catherine George’s brilliantly colored, stiffly architectural boho looks, turns obnoxious behavior into a comedic art form, the Tasmanian Devil as self-absorbed art world hanger-on.

With “Problemista,” Julio Torres has gathered a cornucopia of ideas into an ever-so-slightly unwieldy whole, a singular expression he makes work.  It’s a delightfully madcap charmer.

A24 releases "Problemista" in select theaters on 3/1/24, expanding in subsequent weeks until a wide release on 3/22/24.