Family separations at the hands of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement yield a new kind of road trip in editor-turned-director Richard Levien’s first feature, “Collisions,” a timely, undeniably compassionate but ultimately underwhelming production reflecting on a profoundly American issue.
In a mixed-status household, U.S.-born teen Itan (Izabella Alvarez) has assumed a parenting role for her younger brother Neto (Jason Garcia Jr.), while their undocumented mother Yoana (famed Mexican actress Ana de la Reguera) labors nights to support them. Losing their protector and breadwinner to the immigration system sets the studious girl on a cross-country quest to determine her mother’s whereabouts and attempt to halt her deportation.
Alvarez, a rising Latina star in Hollywood, commands each desperation-ridden scene with the maturity and resolve that only a child who’s had to exchange innocence for responsibility can muster. Beneath Itan’s calculative planning and academic smarts lies pent up resentment for not having a more conventional life for someone her age; the promising young actress capitalizes on that warranted frustration for a remarkable turn.
Combative banter with obstinate uncle Evencio (Jesse Garcia), recruited as impromptu guardian, represents a collision of two distinct experiences in a country with a sadistic attitude toward immigrants and their children. Garcia (who garnered recognition for his part in the Mexican American drama “Quinceañera”) is superb as a cynical truck driver.
Propelled by its gifted principal cast — in spite of stilted performances in the periphery — and a purposefully opaque aesthetic to amplify its social realist grittiness, Levien’s humbly made film doesn’t achieve the sentimental impact it’s after due to implausible story beats and missed opportunities for consequential tension but is far from being a complete disservice to a cause in need of urgent attention.
Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes
Playing: Starts October 4, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills