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Austin Film Festival: In Tow (2023) Review

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

This is the first short film I’ve ever reviewed for this blog, which shows just how much I enjoyed it. Sharon Arteaga’s newest offering follows a mother and daughter after they wake up to find their mobile home is being repossessed—while they’re still inside of it! Despite the quick 21-minute runtime, so much is captured in this movie: parent-child relationships, class and how ‘home’ is defined not by a place but by the people around us. Making smart use of humor and building the characters’ relationship with breathtaking efficiency, Arteaga continues to prove herself as one of the most exciting and interesting filmmakers emerging today.

Being a short film, the script here is incredibly tight. The pacing never feels too slow—in fact, the film seems to operate at a breakneck pace—but what I find most impressive is how nothing feels rushed. We get a great sense of how Bonnie has done everything she can to keep a roof over her daughter’s head, only to continue being faced with things that are out of her control. Similarly, Shelia’s teenage angst feels organic, as does the realization that her mother is doing her best. Despite the heavy premise of the film, there are plenty of opportunities for laughs, and Arteaga takes full advantage. This use of humor never feels forced, and not only helps balance the film by providing levity, but also prevents the characters from sinking into any negative stereotypes. We see Latina characters struggling, but within that struggle there is so much hope and joy, giving audiences a glimpse into the nuanced texture of their life. “Although my films are based in unfortunate circumstances, they are offset by a playful tone and resilient characters,” says the director. This gamble could have easily resulted in a less engaging watch, but Arteaga’s writing, combined with some fantastic acting, creates a thrilling watch.

Katy Atkinson does a phenomenal job as Shelia. Having worked with Arteaga on the HBOMax-licensed When You Clean A Stranger’s Home (2020), it was great to see Atkinson get even more space to really demonstrate her range here. Her character is definitely selfish, but in a way that’s familiar if you’ve ever met a teenager. She’s able to convey a great sense of tenderness and vulnerability throughout. Sandy Ávila also brings a powerhouse performance as Bonnie, wavering between exasperated and determined to resist the circumstances that have been placed upon her and her daughter. These two actresses have a chemistry that injects so much life and energy into the frame, it’s hard to look away.

From her previous shorts, it’s clear that Arteaga is interested in not only portraying the lives of working-class Latinas, but doing so in a way that refuses to give in to tropes or stereotypes, and I find that both refreshing and important. In a cultural landscape where politics and art are constantly separated, her films reunite the two in a way that doesn’t feel like she’s lecturing us from behind the camera as much as acknowledging everything that makes the human experience what it is. In Tow will be featured as part of the Austin Film Festival, and I highly recommend you keep an eye out for it!

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