This review contains spoilers for “No Data Plan.”
Miko Revereza’s “No Data Plan” begins with the fleeting and mysterious sentence, “Mama has two phone numbers.” In the 70 minutes that follow, viewers are dragged alongside Revereza on his three day cross-country train trip seeing the impossibly mundane world (seriously, I was unaware that footage could be so dull) through his eyes while hearing and reading about his family and friends.
“No Data Plan” is an atypical film that features little dialogue and intermittent narration from unidentified people. The choppy story is accompanied by absurdly long shots of train tracks, the American countryside and the periodic disembarkment and reboarding of the Amtrak train in which Revereza travels on. To capture and retain the audience’s attention, Revereza relies on the intrigue and empathy that surrounds his precarious situation.
The 30-year-old filmmaker moved to the U.S. from the Philippines at a young age and, while he was granted protection through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, his papers have since expired. Up until the climax of the film, Revereza presents a shaky and sometimes confusing portrait of his family roots in the Philippines and the infidelities that seemingly engulf his parent’s marriage.
Save for the recounting of the affair that his mom had with a 23-year-old Vietnamese man who Revereza refers to as “the driver,” the narration and subtitles that accompany the footage present an incomplete story. The plot, or lack thereof, focuses on a strange variety of topics that are difficult to place in the scope of the narrative that Revereza is sharing. Perhaps the most notable example of this jolty storytelling occurs when an unidentifiable voice begins to talk about how the rapper Drake’s zodiac sign has influenced his music.
Revereza could have gotten away with this erratic storytelling if he had more impressive footage, but after ten minutes of the film I began to wonder whether we were going to be stuck on this same train with the same repetitive shots for the duration of the film (spoiler alert: we were). The jump from topic to topic often feels directionless and had me yearning for a singular, focused story that seems like it may never come.
Luckily, a compelling story does come at the climax of the film, which sees Revereza recount the moment in which Border Patrol agents boarded and searched his train outside of Albany, New York. This is perhaps the only moment in the documentary that presents a clear narrative focus and any semblance of a plot. Throughout his retelling of the encounter, it is clear that Revereza was terrified by the presence of the agents but also that this was a moment that he had been imagining for a long time. While Revereza ultimately comes out of the surprise search without being detained or even questioned, it is easy to imagine an entirely different ending to the tale.
With the exception of the climax of the movie, which is a compelling moment that unfortunately feels rushed and somewhat incomplete given the amount of time that Revereza spends on the most arbitrary parts of his cross-country journey, it is hard to know what we are supposed to take away from “No Data Plan.”
While I went into the film excited to see the world through the perspective of an undocumented documentary filmmaker, I left realizing that I learned more about the boredom that comes with long train rides than anything about his life as an undocumented person in the U.S. Perhaps my most complete and certain takeaway from this film is that there are only so many interesting shots you can get while on board an Amtrak train.
Edited by Joe Cross | firstname.lastname@example.org