The opening shots of The Guardian (known in some countries as Ana)remind us of a natural disaster from 2017. Hurricane Maria had a devastating effect on Puerto Rico, killing at least 3,000 and all but destroying the country’s economy. The characters in Charles McDougall’s likeable comedy/drama refer to the situation as “the crisis” – ring any bells? – and use just about any means at their disposal to survive.
One of the most resourceful is 11 year old Ana (Dafne Keen). When her mother is put in prison, the youngster latches onto local used car salesman Rafa (Andy Garcia) in the hope he’ll give her somewhere to stay. His efforts to place her elsewhere draw a blank and, while trying to help her, he loses his business, goes gambling in a desperate attempt to win back some money and loses. The two take to the road, essentially to track down her missing father, but also to drum up enough money for Rafa to get the loan sharks off his back. And they’re already on his tail.
This being a road trip movie, you know pretty much what to expect – the odd couple pair learning to get on and eventually becoming friends, their own personal journeys and the various characters they meet along the way. And it’s set against a background of a beautiful but damaged country, one that’s not just suffering from the aftermath of the hurricane but also from corruption as politicians seek to exploit its situation for their own gain. Their activities form the film’s sub-plot, one that only surfaces during the second half and is an awkward fit with what’s gone before, especially as it plays a key part in resolving Rafa’s money problems. But the portrait of the island – it was filmed entirely on location by a Puerto Rican crew – has an authentic feel, full of local colour and flavour.
The focus, however, is always very much on the relationship between Rafa and Ana, which is drawn in a heart-warming yet never mawkish way. Andy Garcia is suitably grouchy as Rafa, down on his luck but finding a sense of purpose and even principles when he’s the only person Ana has to look out for her. And Logan’s Dafne Keen is a spirited Ana, street smart but still vulnerable and desperately in need of a guardian angel. Together, they’re an appealing partnership, the real beating heart of the film.
The Guardian has slipped quietly onto digital platforms this week and would be all too easy to overlook. Despite a decidedly wobbly second half where it definitely loses its sense of direction, it turns out to be an engaging if predictable trip with two central performances that keep your attention throughout. It may not bring anything especially new to the road trip genre, but it earns its place.
Comedy, Drama | Cert: 12 | Signature Entertainment | Digital, 17 April 2020 | Dir. Charles McDougall | Andy Garcia, Dafne Keen, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Luna Lauren Velez.