Skip to main content

The Hilarious and Astoundingly Generous Comedy of Eugenio Derbez

Eugenio Derbez stars in the new Hulu comedy "The Valet," which is the latest chapter in a career dedicated to laughter and positive change.

It takes a remarkable set of circumstances for the world to notice a nobody. That’s what transpires in Eugenio Derbez’s newest comedy, “The Valet.”

Like any masterful joke, the premise precedes the payoff and doesn’t only serve to invoke laughter but also shed a spotlight on a painful truth. Some truly hard work often goes hidden.

Like the valet you toss your keys to or the busboy you pass on your way out of the restaurant, Derbez’s latest character is as dressed up in anonymity as he is in make-up.

“When I moved to this country, and after being offered constantly the same kind of roles, you know, the gang member, the narco, the bad guy, I was like, I need to change this if I can,” Derbez tells En Fuego. “If one day I'm able to produce in this country, I would like to change the narrative and portray Latinos in a different way.”

Derbez plays Antonio. It’s a role that again puts the Latino in the driver’s seat of someone else’s car, but there is a point to the part.

Antonio could be any valet in the greater Los Angeles area, but the movie posits a flip of the lens. The focus is pushed in on the man doing the thankless job as the others move to the background.

Suddenly, the valet is the protagonist whose superpower is being kind, oftentimes to a fault, putting others first, and leading the kind of life we should all strive to live.

Filmed around the L.A. area, the movie feels smaller in a way, like the kind of organic frivolity that comes on stage with a gifted ensemble.

Samara Weaving plays a vapid star actress who dares to open her eyes and see Antonio as a human and not a person doing a job.

Filling in the mortar of the film are featured players that drive home the point that behind every thankless job is a life lived in anonymity. And it’s a damn shame, because these lives are so rich.

The late Carmen Salinas brings so much joy to the screen and garners a wealth of humor from what may have been a one-dimensional and tragic storyline in another movie.

“The Valet” is in a real sense, typical Derbez. There is truth hidden behind the laughs and depth to the gags. You laugh and then consider, ain’t that the truth.

Made for Movies

Derbez was raised at the theater. His mother, Silvia Derbez, was a star of Mexican cinema as well as a telenovela mainstay.

She passed on her affection for the industry to her son, whom she would take to the movies two, three films at a time.

A young Derbez couldn’t get enough. There was one movie in particular that he recalls smacking him in the soul with what could be accomplished by dramatic actors.

“I remember the first time I cried like a baby in a movie theater,” Derbez recalled. The movie is a 1973 Italian drama by the name “L'ultima Nieve di Primavera,” a story that centers around a boy getting to know his father and a dad learning to connect with his son.

“It was shocking,” Derbez recalled. “It was like a roller coaster. And after that, I said, What is this?

“What I felt in that movie theater changed my perception of cinema forever. And I wanted to tell those kind of stories. And that's why when I did ‘Instructions Not Included.’ And they were telling me, don't you think this is too dramatic for a comedy? I wanted to recreate. I wanted people to feel the same that I felt when I saw this movie, because it was a roller coaster emotionally for me. And that's why I love cinema, because I love sitting down in a movie theater and just let it go and feel all this kind of emotions laugh, cry and everything at the same time. That’s cinema.”

Celebrating Latinos

Cinema has changed since that 1973 film knocked some inspiration into a young Mexican boy. There are still the theaters, glorious in their size and scope, especially when talking popcorn servings.

But there are now options for those who want to enjoy a respite from the comfort of their homes. “The Valet” is accessible in its delivery as well as its storytelling.

It’s wonderfully light while addressing topics such as gentrification and racism. It’s so much easier to swallow the fact that we have all looked past people who we encounter daily when the lesson is dressed up with comedy.

It’s also wonderful to see a movie that puts representation front and center as Latinos are not taking part in cliched roles sans depth to their character.

“I've been trying to do that with my movies,” Derbez said. “I've been trying to show a different kind of Latino, you know, and ‘The Valet,’ especially this movie. It's a celebration for all of them.

“I want them to be visible because they're kind of invisible. All the hardworking people here. Some of them, because they don't have papers, some of them because they don't speak English that well. They want to remain, you know, hidden. And they don't like to speak that much. They don't want to be seen, but they deserve to be seen because they work harder than anyone else. So, this is a celebration for all of them.”

Uplifting His People

A career that has spanned over four decades feels in many ways as fresh as it did a generation ago. The audience is discovering the power and drama that can come from a face that’s made us laugh for years, as he did in his role as “Coda’s” Bernardo.

He’s also shown that laughter and heartfelt emotion are the best of friends on screen in the hit “Instructions Not Included.”

The work he is doing now is a testament to drive but also the audacity of seeking out your goals and creating the narrative you want to tell.

“I knew when I moved to this country, I was looking for two things to do the crossover to the U.S. and to the general market. But at the same time, I wanted to support my people. And also, every time I can hire a Latino actor or a Mexican actor, especially because I work with many of them, I do that.”

Derbez’s films are as renowned for their inclusion as they are for their humor. “The Valet’s” diversity is one of its many strengths.

2013’s “Instructions Not Included” brought Mexico to the world, taking in over $100 million worldwide and proving again that Derbez and indeed Spanish-language films could crossover into this country.

“That's why I brought Carmen Salinas or Omar Chaparro, Adrian Uribe, all these amazing comedians to be with me in my movies because I feel that we are not supporting each other,” he said.

“When I came to this country, I felt that nobody was helping me. It looks like we're really selfish. It's like nobody wants to really give you a hand.

“And because of that, I'm going to be different. And I'm going to help as much people as I can. And that's what I try to do in every single movie. I try to show them, and I feel proud.

He recalls being asked about the Mexican talent brought in for a movie like “Overboard” (2018). It was a particularly warm memory for someone whose greatest talent is being a champion for his fellow performer. “And I was really proud to show all this talent, all these Mexican comedians that they didn't know. So, it's a pride for me.”

“The Valet” streams Friday, May 20 on Hulu