The literal translation of the Spanish word fresa is strawberry, but in Mexico it’s used to describe rich kids who wear fancy clothes and go to prep schools, basically the equivalent of a yuppie. Fresas have a very specific manner of expressing themselves. Imagine a Valley girl speaking Spanish and switch the word “like” with “osea” — that’s exactly how they sound.
There are lots of different words in Mexico used to describe the monied class. The offspring of the uber-wealthy and elite, whose parents are politicians and businessmen, are called juniors. The guys are easily identifiable: slicked back hair, unbuttoned designer shirts, and expensive sunglasses — basically what we in the U.S. would call douchebags. The women carry fancy handbags and it’s not unusual for one to be accompanied by a bodyguard.
Nosotros Los Nobles, one of Mexico’s highest grossest films of all time, makes fun of spoiled, entitled fresas and juniors who live in Mexico City and use their parents’ credit cards to pay for everything. The comedy broke box office records when it opened in Mexico earlier this year and is now playing at several AMC theaters throughout the U.S.
After the death of his beloved wife German Noble, a construction magnate of immense wealth is left to care for his ungrateful (adult) children who have never worked a day in their lives. Barbara, his daughter who goes by Barbie, is the ultimate fresa. She acts like a princess and expects everyone to treat her like one. Her brother Javier is a total junior. He drives a shiny SUV and uses his two black cards to buy his friends drinks. The youngest, Charlie, is a long-haired, moustachioed hipster who loves yoga and all things transcendental. None of them work but all of them spend their dad’s money and rack up huge bills.
In order to teach them a lesson, German fakes bankruptcy and tells his children they have nothing left. It’s a brilliant ruse: phony police storm their mansion, luxury cars are repossessed, black cards cancelled, and cell phones shut off. As they flee from the police Barbie asks (in her Valley girl/fresa accent), “Me puedes explicar por qué nos están quitando todo como si estuviéramos en Venezuela?” (Can you explain why they are taking everything away from us, as if we were in Venezuela?)
The family hides out in a rundown, dusty, abandoned, old house that belonged to their grandfather. The only clothes they have are the ones they are wearing and they barely have any cash between them. German announces they have to do something they’ve never done before, get jobs. Javi ends up driving a pesero (privately owned mini-bus), Barbie is forced to wear a bar maid costume while serving food at a cantina, and Cha finds work at a bank. The formerly wealthy siblings are forced to interact with non-rich people or what’s known as la prole (short for proletariat). Oh, the horror!
The director of the film, Gary Alazraki, says he intended to make a Hollywood film in Spanish. He succeeded. It’s a funny, decently acted, mainstream film with likeable characters and a story that moves forward at a perfect pace. Even for a movie snob like me who regularly turns up her nose up at Hollywood blockbusters, it was satisfying and enjoyable. I actually LOLed at lots of the jokes.
In between the wisecracks and quips it makes some pointed observations about the divide between social classes in Mexico, but stays away from really polemic issues. It’s not pushing any boundaries but absolutely mocks the affluent. In tough economic times laughing at snotty people with luxurious lifestyles provides a much needed release.
The success of the film in Mexico is no surprise. In a country where almost half the population is considered poor the masses are acutely aware of social class. Inequality is rampant and resentment against the small oligarchy who controls the majority of the wealth is high. It’s not hard to figure out why. What may be considered a modest amount of money in the U.S. can buy you an opulent lifestyle in Mexico. The moderately wealthy have live-in maids. The really rich people have bodyguards, drivers, and reside in neighborhoods that resemble Beverly Hills. When a Starbucks opened in Mexico City the yuppies flocked there, it now has valet parking.
In stark contrast to the highly visible cleavage between the rich and poor in Mexico, if you ask anyone in the U.S. what part of the social strata they belong to they will likely say middle class. Even the ones who are struggling. Class consciousness is less of a thing here (besides the tiny window provided by the Occupiers), or at least not as overtly. I am curious to see how Americans will receive this movie. Will a story that depicts extreme differences in income resonate with the middle-class? At the very least it might be novel. How often do gringos get to see images of Mexicans who look white and live in the lap of luxury? Well, unless they watch the Spanish channel. Then it would be no surprise.
Nosotros Los Nobles opens November 1, 2013 in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco/San Jose, Phoenix, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Charlotte.