A ChucksConnection Film Review


Max Pelayo wears red high top Converse “Chuck Taylor” All Stars in the film.
Reese Gonzales wears unbleached white high top Converse “Chuck Taylor” All Stars in the film.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe


by Hal Peterson

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Aristotle and Dante seated in the back of a city bus.


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe takes us back to El Paso, Texas in the summer of 1987. There we meet two Mexican-American teenagers, Aristotle (Max Pelayo) and Dante (Reese Gonzales) at a public swimming pool where Ari (as Aristotle prefers to be called) is trying to teach himself how to swim. This is typical behavior for Ari, who mostly keeps to himself. Although he is athletic, he never has learned how to swim, and rather than seek out an instructor or class, he prefers to learn on his own, even if he doesn’t know what he is doing. Ari maintains a serious demeanor and keeps his feelings to himself, something that is a turnoff to many of the other students at his high school. At the pool he meets Dante who has an opposite personality, outgoing and friendly, and immediately volunteers to teach Ari. As the two teenagers get to know each other and become best friends, we learn that Dante in many ways “marches to the beat of a different drummer” and is steadfast in upholding his personal standards and beliefs. This is why he is much of a loner at high school. Both boys like to wear high top Chuck Taylor sneakers, but Dante likes to go barefoot a lot, and will slip out of his beat up white pair whenever he gets a chance. (See the stills below)

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Dante is seated at Ari’s doorstep about to take off his chucks.

Another important similarity between the boys is the involvement of their parents in their lives. Ari’s parents are Liliana and Jaime Mendoza (Verónica Falcón and Eugenio Derbez). Jaime is a mailman and Liliana is a stay at home mom. Dante’s parents are Soledad and Sam Quintana (Eva Longoria and Kevin Alejandro). Both of his parents are academics, which affects the story line when Sam takes his family up to Chicago for a academic year posting at the University of Chicago. Dante is an only child, as in reality is Ari, although he does have an older brother who is in prison for a serious crime that his parents refuse to talk about. Because there are a lot of family implications in the story line, we get to know both sets of parents more than one usually sees in coming of age genre films. The fact that both sets of parents are so understanding about the issues and crises that face their sons is somewhat surprising, given the time frame of the film. But both families show love for each other and consider both boys to be family members.


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Ari looks around at Dante’s bedroom.


The story line of this film covers the developing relationship between Ari and Dante over a period of several years. There are a number of seminal scenes that define the development of their feelings for each other, but it would spoil the impact of the film for a first time viewer to discuss all of them in this review. One is the scene where Ari goes on a camping trip with Dante and his parents and is told by Dante that the two things he loves the most are swimming and Ari. Ari replies that he should not tell him those things, even if they are true. A second scene is when they declare their friendship by creating mismatched pairs of chucks (see best chucks scene below). Immediately after that is another scene where Ari saves Dante’s life when he goes to help an injured animal in the road and doesn’t see an oncoming speeding car. Ari is able to get Dante off the street but breaks his leg in the process, something that cements their families together even more. But the main focus of this film about is how far their friendship will be able to develop, especially after their year of separation when Dante continued to assert his love for Ari, while Ari learns to drive, and experiments with alcohol and girls. Will their friendship remain platonic or will it develop into a fully romantic relationship? For most teenage boys, this is a particularly difficult issue to deal with openly.


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Ari seated in the back of his pickup truck with the tiny pair of mismatched chucks he received in the mail from Dante.


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is adapted from Benjamin Alire Sáenz’ 2012 novel for teenagers. Coming out and expressing homosexual love was difficult even then and so much more in the 1980s. Director Aitch Alberto’s adaption for the screen is well done, with an excellent cast. While this film could not have been made in the time frame of the story, for today’s world people are ready to accept its themes and outcomes more openly. Credit must be given to Max Pelayo and Reese Gonzales for their nuanced performances in the lead roles and to Verónica Falcón, Eugenio Derbez, Eva Longoria, and Kevin Alejandro as the boy’s parents. A special mention should be given to Marlene Forte, who played Ari’s Aunt Ophelia in a cameo performance that was like a touch of icing on the cake. Even if you consider the subject matter to be troubling, there is a vibe of normalcy about this film that makes it very watchable and doesn’t stress you out.

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Closeup of the boys chucks as they are seated on the bus.

Best Chucks Scene

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Ari ties one of his red high top chucks to one of Dante’s white high tops to make a mismatched pair.


Chucks appear mostly in the first half of the film, with Ari wearing red high tops and Dante wearing unbleached white high tops when he is not going barefoot. The reason for this is a pivotal scene where the two boys are outside in a pouring rain and decide to cement their friendship by making two mismatched pairs of their chucks. Then Ari ties the laces of his pair together and tosses them over a low hanging power line where they can continue to be seen throughout the film. With his mismatched pair of chucks hanging on the line, Ari no longer has a pair to wear.

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Ari and Dante's symbol of their friendship remains hanging on the wire.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. (2023) Max Pelayo, Reese Gonzales, Veronica Falcón, Eugenio Derbez, Eva Longoria, Kevin Alejandro. Written and directed by Aitch Alberto. Categories: Drama, Coming of Age.
ChucksConnection Rating: 3 chucks rting MPAA Rating: PG-13


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