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Photo Credit: Dan McFadden / Hulu

Acting Up: Eugenio Derbez


The Snapshot:

Eugenio Derbez plays a valet parking attendant who gets hired by a billionaire to pretend he’s dating a Hollywood A-list actress in the multicultural rom-com, The Valet.

(The film was released on Hulu and other Disney streaming services on May 20th.)

 

The Performance:

Behind the glamour of Hollywood, there’s always been a blue-collar working class there to play supporting roles. Without the food servers, security guards, janitorial crews or valet parkers, little to none of the sexy that comprises the Hollywood premiere/afterparty would even be possible.

But rarely does a movie get made about one – namely a 47-year-old Beverly Hills valet parker who lives with his mom, bikes to work and has $320 to his name (yet “excellent credit”).

Meet Antonio Flores (Derbez), a genuine, hardworking man with a teen son and soon-to-be ex-wife. When Antonio gets photographed by a paparazzo – literally in the middle of a lover’s spat between famous actress Olivia Allan (Samara Weaving) and her married real estate tycoon boyfriend Vincent (Max Greenfield) – Antonio is offered a new job (of sorts) to dispel rumors of the couple’s illicit affair. That is – to pose as Olivia’s boyfriend since, well, he was in the photo.

It’s a ruse that inevitably thrusts Olivia and Antonio into the Hollywood spotlight – and ensuing chaos. At first, Antonio is in shock that he’s being asked to play this role in real life. But he reluctantly accepts and from there, The Valet kicks into high gear once Olivia and Antonio’s vastly different cultures, classes and worlds collide in a way that’s funny, sweet and sentimental.

For instance, at their first staged lunch, Antonio asks to go to the bathroom but is stopped by several people who confuse him for a busboy and want him to refill their waters. He complies. Or when he accompanies Olivia to the premiere of her movie and is asked by a reporter on the red carpet who designed his tuxedo to which he replies, “It’s mine.” Or when Antonio arrives back at his theater seat, arms full of concessions since “they were not charging for anything.”

These are a few of the fish-out-of-water moments where actor Derbez shows us that he can hit the right notes. But we soon realize the film is about more than laughs when Olivia and Antonio start to see that they’re more alike than maybe anyone would’ve imagined. And though it all may seem slightly farfetched at first, The Valet wins you over and takes the heart for a proverbial ride.

As good as Weaving is at playing Olivia, it’s Derbez (who also produced the film) who gives this multicultural comedy a stamp of validation. He plays it incredibly low-key and shows an aspect of the Mexican experience in Los Angeles where the working class can often feel…overlooked.

It’s a point brought up in the film when Antonio confesses to Olivia: “Being invisible is not fun. Do you have any idea what it’s like to have people hand you their keys – and not even look you in the eye?”

There aren’t a lot of films like The Valet that bring these two worlds together quite like this. Nor actors like Derbez, who’s been doing it for quite some time – but primarily in Mexico where he’s been one of the most prolific actors, producers and comedians working since the early 1980s.

 

The Career:

Despite all the work he’s done, it’s high time American audiences knew more about Eugenio Derbez.

It’s crazy to even write that sentence given the 60-year-old, Mexico-born actor/director is one of the most prolific Hispanic actors and filmmakers working today. Still, Derbez has been vastly underappreciated on the American mainstream level for some time. The first time I truly got a sense of what he could do was in the Oscar-winning film, CODA, and I would’ve covered Derbez’s performance in that beautiful film – if Troy Kotsur hadn’t been so damn good.

In CODA, Derbez plays the wildly memorable music teacher who helps Emilia Jones’ character find her voice as a hearing daughter to a set of deaf parents. Derbez is behind the piano in that incredible final scene that brought tears to the eyes of anyone with a heart. It’s a role he could’ve – and probably should’ve – earned an Academy Award nomination for in 2022 alongside Kotsur.

Before that, and other than his long, impressive resume of Mexico-based film projects I couldn’t possibly recap all here, the graduate of the Mexican Film Institute and Televisa Acting School starred in several other American films of note when he wasn’t lending his voice to the Spanish-speaking versions of film franchises including Shrek, Dr. Dolittle and The Secret Lives of Pets.

One was Instructions Not Included (2013), a film he also co-wrote and directed about an Acapulco playboy who raises the daughter that he didn’t know he had – before the birth mother resurfaces. The modest film became the most successful Spanish-speaking film in terms of global box office grossing $100M+ worldwide. Other films of note include How to Be a Latin Lover (2017), where Derbez plays a divorcee who, after a life spent seducing older women, moves in with his sister (Selma Hayek). And Overboard (2018), the gender-swapped reimagining of the 1987 Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell comedy about a yacht owner (Derbez) who contracts amnesia, and a new life, thanks a mistreated employee (played by Anna Faris).

And even though Derbez is the writer, director and producer of some of the most popular shows and longest running sitcoms ever on Univision (a la La familia P. Luche 1994-2012), it’s possible that Derbez (who started acting at age 12) is in the midst of having another moment.

Between The Valet and CODA, which did so many things right, his dance card is filling up with no less than five projects in production at various levels including a second season of the AppleTV+ bilingual comedy series, Acapulco (2021). In it, Derbez plays the present-day version of a cabana boy (Enrique Arrizon) working at the hottest resort in Acapulco, Mexico, in 1984.

The series is inspired by the aforementioned film Derbez starred in, How to Be a Latin Lover.

Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.