“The Secret Diary of an Exchange Student” works itself into a lather for its finale, briefly becoming a door-slamming farce with a college applicant who faces deportation, his dismayed college admissions interviewer, a cadre of anti-deportation protestors, sheriff’s deputies, a crazed NSA agent and her “exchange student” hostage, a shrieking baby and the perky but hapless Brazilian exchange student/au pair who set all this in motion.
This “Around the World with Netflix” outing is a Brazilian rom-com that’s lean on laughs but cute around the edges, a movie whose best zingers come at the expense of the norte americanos, or a young leftist’s attitudes about them (us).
Former child actress Larissa Manoela plays Barbara, a 23 year old from Rio who wears a flight attendant’s uniform to work at the airport, but who spends her days hustling “Dream Trip” magazine subscriptions. She’s full of travel tips from the magazine, but has never traveled herself.
One failed “contest” to sell the most subscriptions later, and she chucks that gig for her new idea about how to go abroad. She’ll become an au pair, learn English while living in America, and drag her raving leftist taxi dispatcher pal Taila (Thati Lopes) with her.
Taila is the life of the movie, ranting at “rideshare colonialists” who want to “destroy our industry” (she manages a taxi stand at the airport), steal the Amazon and “take our Niobium,” some mineral she’s heard is Brazil’s ticket to the future.
This handsome flight attendant Barbara met, Brad (David Sherod), may be the inspiration for this scheme, but that doesn’t mean Taila’s going to let him forget “This economic crisis was created by the Americans.”
They fly into Brad’s upstate New York town in the middle of winter, befriend a handsome Brazilian student (Bruno Montaleone) who works in the ski resort, and have misadventures with Barbara’s taskmaster single-mom lawyer-boss (Kathy-ann Hart) and the gun-loving, hunting-crazed, meat-addicted family that takes Taila in because they miss their own daughter, a captive NSA agent.
You can see where most of the comic possibilities are, but what you should know going in is how long it takes the movie to set up and how little is done with this stuffed-critter-couple Taila must cope with, where the language barrier is practically a blessing.
The two Brazilians enter “The world’s best educational system,” an American high school, where English is taught by a woman who thinks singing “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” is the key to learning. Smart aleck Chinese teens mock them to their faces (in Mandarin).
And all their plans go awry, with romantic blunders, ICE issues and twists that tie this story up in the most eye-rolling way possible.
It’s a colorful, cheerful and messy movie, meandering out of the starting gate, struggling to avoid anything remotely edgy or interesting.
“Culture clash” comedies like this live and die on their “clashes,” and the conflict that might have worked is leftist Taila’s encounter with gun nutty, conservative, arteriosclerosis-meets-diabetes rural America. But the “americanos” scripted and cast aren’t “out there” enough to be funny, even if Taila’s reaction to them and their stuffed chipmunk, etc., is.
Director and co-writer Bruno Garotti ensures that our heroines’ first encounters with snow and downhill skiing dodge anything amusing or slapstickish, that their romances are PG-dull and that the odd scene that clicks — singing in a Brazilian-themed club in NYC, airport mishaps — isn’t enough to make this “Secret Diary” worth reading.
Cast: Larissa Manoela, Thati Lopes, Bruno Montaleone, Kathy-ann Hart
Credits: Directed by Bruno Garotti, script by Bruno Garotti and Sylvio Gonçalves. A Warner Brothers film on Netflix.
Running time: 1:36