What’s Coming Out of #TIFF21 Part Two: Quick Review of THE OTHER TOM and chat with director Rodrigo Pla

Julia Chávez and Israel Rodríguez Bertorelli in THE OTHER TOM. Photo: courtesy of Outsider Pictures.

According to one study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), between 16 and 33% of students screened by teachers are at risk of being diagnosed with a mental health disorder. These assessments are also community dependent, with a higher percentage of boys, non-Hispanic Black students, and students receiving free and/or reduced-price lunch being diagnosed versus when assessments are parent reported – with no major demographic differences noted in the latter.

Another study by the CDC highlights that 53.5% of children between the ages of three and seventeen with behavior disorders receive treatment, with both age and poverty level impacting that likelihood.

In the film THE OTHER TOM, co-writers and directors Rodrigo Pla and Laura Santullo explore this topic through the fictional lives of impoverished, single mother Elena (Julia Chavez) and her son Tom (Israel Rodríguez Bertorelli), who is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and subsequently prescribed psychotropic medication. After an accident, Elena questions the medication’s effects and stops giving it to Tom – which leads to a child services investigation and risks Tom being removed from her home with a charge of neglect.

Shot on location in the border towns of El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, “The Other Tom” uses non-actors – including its two leads – to capture a realistic and humanistic portrait of the circumstances faced by the pair, and the measures Elena takes to help him overcome them.

Although Chavez’s performance is notably amateurish – albeit elevated each time Elena goes into momma bear mode to protect her son – the story and surprisingly Bertorelli’s turn as the troubled youngster Tom are both gripping and magnetic enough to keep audiences engaged in this family’s journey.

The inattention and insensitivity of several school, medical and social work staff is heavily highlighted due to the nature of the story, although a positive art teacher portrayal is given to counter and represent those workers who see the best in at-risk students despite their circumstances.

An indictment of those who choose to medicate first, without fully assessing the environmental, familial and social dilemmas of each at-risk child, and an exploration of the need for meds at all for every child they’re prescribed, “The Other Tom” is a meaningful look into both the safety of treatment and the proper assessment of at-risk children.

I rate it 3.5 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.

The film is currently seeking distribution, with release information to be announced.

Until next thought, Thomasena

PS: check out my interview with co-director Rodrigo Pla, who discusses the motivation behind the film, choosing its cast, and more below.


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