Written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith
Buster's Mal Heart was completed long before its star Rami Malek skyrocketed to fame as the complicated Elliot Alderson on USA's Mr. Robot. What is pure and evident from this sad yet endearing narrative is that Malek himself is in this acting game to take on some of the most challenging and fascinating roles we'll ever get to witness. This is what makes the comparisons between Buster's Mal Heart and Mr. Robot so much fun without ruining the film. These are two different characters yet when filmmaker Smith was asked at the Fantastic Fest filmmaker Q&A about the sort-of Mr. Robot nod, she responded, 'Where Mr. Robot is Man vs. The System, Buster's Mal Heart is Man vs. The Universe.'
Jonah (Malek) is a Latino man who works nights and spends as much of his day caring for his wife Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) and young, precocious daughter. His aspirations extend far beyond his job and station in life as someone who had to endure just to reach this level of stability. Ethnicity factors sneak its way in the heart of this tale with particular resistance shown from mother-in-law Pauline (Lin Shaye) when he teaches his daughter Spanish. Additionally at work, his interaction with Spanish-speaking service workers gives him a connection to his roots. Even as he tries valiantly to build a better life for the family he's created, he is constantly met with resistance from his supervisors who exploit his past for their benefit. This is the frustration of many in the working-class. Two steps forward, three steps back. These themes of class and ethnicity in Buster's Mal Heart aren't frying pan head blows. They're subtle in order to sneak into your subconscious and reveals how a system, also subtly placed in Reagan's America is shattered.
Jonah's frustration bubbles and bursts in ways that are guaranteed to break the coldest of hearts. To Jonah, what is a dream inevitably becomes a nightmare. Buster's Mal Heart from Smith and my view is about loss of faith and the path in which it unravels. Whether Malek's character comes to terms with his fate, well, you tell me.