So you’re in the middle of your Adrien Brody obsession after thinking he was brilliant in The Pianist. You watch his roles in films like Six Ways to Sunday, Harrison’s Flowers and Liberty Heights. Now you’re preparing to watch another little-known film of his called Bread and Roses.
However, after a few minutes into the film, you realize something important: this is not Adrien Brody’s film. Instead, you meet a character named Maya who illegally crosses the border over Mexico and becomes hostage to the men who helped her cross when her family does not have enough money to give to them. You nervously await to see what will happen to her as she calmly converses with one of her captors and convinces him to take a shower because he smells. She goes along with him, washing him off as they sing together while he showers. Then she disappears. She has his clothes and has left him alone naked in the apartment.
This is when you realize you are going to love Maya. She is crafty and quick witted. No one will make a victim of her. Maya knows what she wants and does not settle for less than that. This is the mentality she has when she asks her older sister Rosa to get her a janitorial job at the same office building where Rosa works. Rosa complies and goes through her sadistic supervisor Perez to get Maya a job.
Of course, the non-union job is miserable and Maya finds herself aligning with professional union organizer Sam, which is where Brody comes in. Maya becomes deeply involved in his “justice for janitors” campaign and helps him convince a few of the other workers that they need to unionize. However, the janitorial service learns of the plans to unionize and swiftly implements a divide and conquer strategy to quell the workers.
Maya also finds an unlikely opponent in her sister Rosa. Rosa has a sick husband to take care of, so she is reluctant to lose her job and join with the unionization efforts. Maya and Rosa’s relationship comes to a final confrontation in which Maya learns a few secrets about how Rosa survived when she first arrived in the United States and how she got Maya her job.
Even though you watched this film to see Adrien Brody, you quickly find that Pillar Padilla as Maya has star quality and the acting talent to back it. Elpidio Carillo is also pitch perfect and heartbreaking as Rosa. These two women are the driving forces of this film and they deserved far more accolades than what they received here.
However, another performance also haunts you from this film. Perez is portrayed by no one other than George Lopez. Yes, that George Lopez you have seen do stand up comedy and lead his own family sitcom. You’re surprised because Lopez is completely ruthless and sinister as Perez. You would have never guessed Lopez could pull off this dramatic role so well. Yet, he holds his own next to the excellent performances from Padilla and Carillo.
Brody may have drawn you to this picture, but you stayed for Padilla, Carillo and Perez. The wonderful Latino cast give awesome and powerful performances and should be bigger stars in the States. No matter the reason you found it. You know you discovered a beautiful and powerful film with women of color in the lead.