Photo: ‘The Secret Diary of An Exchange Student’
Netflix is known for its inclusivity of shows and movies about different nations and cultures. In fact, before the premiere of ‘The Secret Diary of an Exchange Student,’ Netflix had many Brazilian titles for streaming, ranging from flicks to long-term series like, ‘Double Dad,’ ‘Rich in Love,’ ‘Girls from Ipanema,’ to name a few. The interesting and diverse Portuguese stories brought a level of richness to the expanding platform that didn’t exist before, something ‘The Secret Diary of an Exchange Student,’ is contributing to now!
The film is about two Brazilian teenagers coming to America, a faraway and foreign land that plunges them into a bit of cultural shock as they come face to face with the quintessential American high school experience. It’s directed by Bruno Garotti who also wrote the script in conjunction with Sylvio Gonçalves. The film can be viewed in both Portuguese and English, adding another desirable level of accessibility and culture.
‘The Secret Diary of an Exchange Student’ Joins Netflix Roster
Larissa Manoela, Brazilian actress, singer, model, writer, and even businesswoman began her illustrious career at just four years old. Her role as Maria Joaquina in the Brazilian children’s telenovela ‘Carrossel,’ put her name on the map, and led to her eventual role in ‘The Secret Diary of an Exchange Student.’ Her character, Barbara, has big dreams of traveling around the world, obsessed with every city there is, spouting facts and figures about the places she wishes she could lay eyes upon.
Unfortunately, Barbara’s job of selling magazine subscriptions isn’t enough to get her out of Brazil and into the wide expanse of the universe around her. Her ambitious venture to sell enough subscriptions to win an all-expense-paid trip is cut short by one subscription, leading her to quit. Taila, her best friend, played by Thati Lopes, helps her find a job as a taxi stand in the airport which ironically puts her the closest and farthest she’s been from her dream.
With everything nearly in her reach, Barbara decides to go to America through an exchange program for students. She leaves with Taila, being placed with families in the States where the rest of their lives finally begins in glorious color and fun and crazy!
‘The Secret Diary of an Exchange Student’ Female Leads Add Sparkle to the Screen
While the concept seems bizarre and foreign, the film is reminiscent of other teen flicks about the trope of the “odd ones out,” something like ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,’ or the iconic ‘Lizzie McGuire Movie,’ that captured Disney audiences in the early 2000s. And, perhaps another common trend between the movies is the rambunctious best friend that ends up stealing the show!
Thati Lopes, who plays Taila in ‘The Secret Diary of an Exchange Student’ is Barabara’s rebellious best friend, a big dreamer herself. The script was meant to limit her to the sidekick role, keeping Barbara as our respective Batman and Taila as the Robin, but her personality seems to bleed off the pages and into our hearts.
Lopes approaches the role with pizazz and energy that is hard to mistake, whether it comes from the crazy blue hair that she manages to style or her lengthy rants about America and its vendetta to undo the Brazilian economy, Taila is a firecracker whose humor and charm carry the movie.
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‘The Secret Diary of an Exchange Student’ Is Bizzare But Entertaining
The movie is advertised as an adventure that neither girls expected, an attack of the American lifestyle on two unassuming best friends who learn about friendship, love, and growth as they explore the country. While ‘The Secret Diary of an Exchange Student’ does this, it also sometimes gets lost in translation. Some scenes are strange, with logic being thrown out the window in a way that makes you feel as if you’re trapped in an alternate universe. Thankfully, the energy of the cast and the general ambiance of the film prevents this from becoming a bigger issue.
The first introductory half of the film is especially fun, as we watch Barbara try to get her life together and frantically sell subscriptions. Even her hectic job as the taxi stand is hilarious to watch and it gives us needed insight into her friendship with co-protagonist, Taila. Even when love interests are introduced, the girls remain joined at the hip, losing their closeness only a bit as America bombards them with a wealth of new problems and experiences.
‘The Secret Diary of an Exchange Student’ Is a Story of Culture and Identity
The ability of the production team to create beautiful and authentic sequences and montages of the girls being out of place is where the true strengths of the film lie. Something about watching Taila and Barbara making fun of their new host families in rushed Portuguese as they watched with wide smiles was endearing and dragged a smile from my own lips as well. It helps distract from seemingly meaningless plot points about green card marriages, the NSA, and paternity tests – all random plot twists that failed to really make an effect on the script.
While not the most intellectual or coherent, something about the basic plot point and aloof main characters makes it an enjoyable summer film to watch with friends. It’s silly and nonsensical at some times but I think that perfectly encapsulates the entire experience of traveling and being dropped in an entirely new country. It’s often bizarre and makes no sense, but the arsenal of experiences, memories, and lessons that you acquire make it worthwhile. Barbara and Taila truly get to understand what it means to be American, bringing a part of their home and culture with them and creating a beautiful melting pot of experiences.
By Mireille Karadanaian
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Mireille Karadanaian is an entertainment journalist, whose passion for reviewing upcoming TV shows and movies has existed since a young age. She writes reviews and feature entertainment stories for The Hollywood Insider’s inclusive and authentic platform, contributing to the important stories being told in media today. Mireille loves discussing the impact today’s media is making on younger generations who emulate what they see on screen and the Internet, a double-edged sword. Her stories often include the importance of creating content that inspires inclusion, positivity, and productive messages to all audiences and generations. Mireille’s love of covering TV shows, movies, and exciting questions that are being asked in the media world is seen in her writing and her ability to not just report facts but also tell a story.