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Problemista SXSW Review: A Visionary Directorial Debut by Julio Torres


Julio Torres has been around in the comedy scene for several years, having had a stint writing on Saturday Night Live, but he was really put on the map with his HBO comedy series Los Espookys. Now, Torres is making his feature directorial debut for A24 with Problemista, a hilarious and personal surreal comedy that audiences will absolutely fall in love with.

Problemista follows an immigrant (Julio Torres) living in New York City who dreams of becoming a toy designer as he becomes the assistant of an eccentric widow. Although the premise doesn’t sound terribly engaging on paper, there is much more to the story than that in a way that is consistently captivating.

One of the best things about this film is how wonderfully it balances its various styles of humor. Some of the quips will absolutely bring the house down, but almost as funny are the bizarre and idiosyncratic mannerisms of the characters. It’s such a specific, creative sense of humor, and Torres’s unique vision shines through at every moment.

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The movie also boasts the impressively quirky and colorful visuals to go along with its humorous tone. From a stylistic standpoint, it feels somewhat reminiscent of what a Wes Anderson movie set in the modern-day NYC art scene would look like. There are also plenty of sequences that are wonderfully inventive from a creative standpoint.

However, even though Problemista thrives in its frequent and subtly deadpan hilarity, it also has a very strong emotional core centered around the protagonist’s experience as an immigrant. Given that the film is clearly semi-autobiographical, with Torres’s own story and emotions informing the movie, it feels tremendously personal and resonates extremely well as a result.

The film’s success also hinges on the complexity of the characters, and Torres does an exceptional job of fleshing out these characters in a way that is so tender and empathetic. Of course, the protagonist is compelling given Torres’s personal connection, but even more impressive is how Swinton’s character — who would generally be frustrating and off-putting — is made so approachable.

Torres’s performance in the leading role is lovably quirky, but as always, Tilda Swinton absolutely steals the show in her supporting role. It’s a big, flashy, and exaggeratedly comedic turn from Swinton, but it fits perfectly within the context of the movie’s absurd and whimsical tone. RZA and Larry Owens are also fantastically hilarious in some of the most unique supporting roles you will find.

Probelmista is a masterpiece — a truly creative vision from a novel voice, and enough that it makes Julio Torres an immediate force to be reckoned with as a director. It comes as no surprise, because his efforts as a writer have been so acclaimed, but his directorial debut is truly extraordinary.

Problemista screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 10-18 in Austin, TX.

Rating: 10/10

10 Out of 10

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Written by Sean Boelman

Film Critic and member of the CACF.