Cultural clashes are recurrent catalysts for comedy, and Friday night at the Los Angeles Film Festival this belief was reinforced with a colorful new buddy cop film. Starring the iconic Luis Guzman and Edgar Garcia with Rosie Perez and Rosario Dawson in supporting roles, Puerto Ricans in Paris takes the New York hustle to another one of the world’s most beloved cities.
Famous for their abilities to bust bootleggers on NYC’s Canal Street, Eddie and Luis are partners and also brothers-in-law. While efficient at their profession, their personal lives have suffered from the demanding schedules. Eddie, married to Luis’ sister, Gloria (Rosie Perez), has a history of forgetting important dates, and their anniversary has slipped his mind once again. Meanwhile, perennially afraid of commitment, Luis has angered his girlfriend, Vanessa (Rosario Dawson), when he confesses he never wants to get married. Romance doesn’t seem to be on these Boricuas’ side.
When a couture handbag gets stolen from a French designer, the duo is selected by the Parisians to get it back before hundreds of fakes are released into the market. If they get it back the juicy reward could mean a fresh start and the means to do something special for their loved ones.
“They go there on business but it becomes a life-changing trip,” says director Ian Edelman about his film’s premise. His relationship with Guzman and Garcia developed during their time together working on the HBO series How to Make It in America, and once that project came to an end, they felt the need to partner up once more.
“What the hell are we gonna eat? The menu is in French, they don’t got no rice and beans.”
As ideas rolled around, one element that was always in the mix was the Nuyorican culture that’s so specific to NYC, ”I grew up in New York, and I love Canal Street. There is this element of fashion, but there is also this hustle down there,“ confirms Edelman. “It was all about Canal Street. I had read an article in The New Yorker about real bootleg recovery experts, and this is a farcical satire of that.” However, their plan was to blend the idiosyncratic Latino traits with this unique job, and place them in a distant setting, “We had done this show for HBO and we spent a lot of time in the Lower East Side. I thought, ‘Let’s get out of the Lower East Side, and let’s go to Paris.’”
For producer Joseph Zolfo the film is “a fish out of water story” that is “very much an American film too.” Although he is aware of the specific appeal it will have among the Latino community, he feels confident that this won’t alienate other audiences, “Everyone in the U.S, whether you are Latino or not, can relate to how the American eye sees the Parisians’ culture. If you understand the Latino community it is even funnier.” When asked about the decision to premiere such a New York story on the West coast, Zolfo reasserted his belief that Puerto Ricans in Paris would do well here because, “There is a strong Latino community in Los Angeles and it’s very relatable.”
Putting together the Puerto Rican acting “dream team” was a task made easier thanks to Guzman’s reputation and longevity in the business. He’s been in countless projects across all genres for over three decades. In Puerto Ricans in Paris he also served as Executive Producer, coming on board right from the story’s inception. It’s a role tailor made for him and his tough guy brand of humor.
“Rosario and Rosie came on through their relationship with Luis… He made the phone calls, they read the script and they were like, ‘I’m in.’”
Although the protagonists were attached from the start, others in the cast responded to Guzman’s magnetism and friendship as Edelman revealed, “Rosario and Rosie came on through their relationship with Luis, who is a living legend and an icon. He made the phone calls, they read the script and they were like, ‘I’m in.’” While the filmmaker felt embarrassed for not having picked up much Spanish from his actors, when questioned about how Puerto Rican he was now he candidly replied, “After my summer with them, probably a little bit more.”
And how could he not pick up some Latino flavor having Guzman’s sass around that long. It took a couple questions to learn that both him and his co-star, Garcia, love to joke around. Initially, Guzman joked that the only reason he got involved with the movie was the leisure time, “We needed a vacation,” he said. To which Garcia replied, “He went for vacation. I went to learn how to become a cook.” Both are certainly valid reasons. Later Guzman described the comedy as, “…a story about two Boricuas out of water in Paris. It’s a journey about how we solve the case. It’s very funny and intense journey,” which evidently benefited from the on-screen banter between the two leads. “We brought an incredible chemistry and we learned a lot about each other,” continued Guzman.
Both Guzman and Garcia had a great time in the City of Lights, but admit that in going from Canal Street to Les Champs-Elysees there was one big problem. “What the hell are wegonna eat? The menu is in French, they don’t got no rice and beans,” said an alarmed Guzman. “We tried ordering in Spanish but it didn’t work. We asked for chuletas and they brought us chicken,” continued Garcia, whose character in the film falls in love with pistachio macaroons during the trip. Despite the culinary difficulties, and other challenging cultural clashes, we can be certain that making the film was as much fun as watching it, “We took over that city pretty much” says Guzman, and his co-star verifies it, “We caused a lot of chaos, but it was fun.”