The realities of immigration and cash flow feed the undercurrent of this sweet, subtitled tale told with just a touch of camera trickery and rich-lady stereotypes.
Carlitos (Alonzo) is only 9 years old. His pleasant childhood in Mexico with his maternal granny (the lovely Angelina Peláez) is marred by the absence of his mother, Rosario (the beautifully imperfect del Castillo), who talks to him payphone to payphone every Sunday from America, where she works illegally to save money to bring her only child to Los Angeles.
When granny dies, Carlitos hitches a ride hidden in the van of a couple of American-born college kids (Ferrera and Jesse Garcia) looking to make a buck. Once in the U.S., Carlitos hooks up with gruff fellow immigrant Enrique (Derbez), who initially wants nothing to do with the charismatic kid who wins folks over with his sad story and determination.
Enrique and Carlitos hitchhike a ride with the Mexican musical group Los Tigres del Norte (played by themselves), who sing a song for Carlitos about yearning and love, and the pair end up tied together in need and want. There is the matter of Carlitos’ absent father, too, but that only enters as a plot point later in this sensitive movie.
— Wendy Ward