Cowboy del Amor (2005)

“Gringo looking for Mexican wife.”

Love and marriage are both dodgy, unpredictable things–even in the best of circumstances, so I wish anyone who opts for an ‘arranged’ or ‘mail-order’ marriage the best of luck. That said, I approached the documentary film, Cowboy Del Amor  with some trepidation–hoping that it didn’t paint too optimistic a picture of an industry whose job ends at the precise point the married couple have to begin all the hard work of making their union work.

Luckily, I found Cowboy Del Amor fascinating, riveting and highly entertaining, and while the documentary did not alter my opinion about arranged marriages, the footage of Cowboy Cupid Ivan Thompson’s attempts to hook up middle-aged American men with Mexican women is a study in the ironic foibles of human nature. The film is buoyed up by the quirky, ultimately optimistic, opinionated personality of Thompson, a perennial matchmaker. Thompson–a New Mexico cowboy–who sees parallels between the “horse business” and the “woman business”, has operated his matchmaking business for over 16 years–advertising from billboards, and with an answering message machine that warns prospective wife seekers that if they’re “looking for a guarantee” they’re better off going to Walmart, and getting an appliance and should “leave women alone.”

The film begins with Thompson traveling to Mexico with Rick, a 48-year-old truck driver, who, after a failed marriage, is looking for love, and he’s paid Thompson the princely sum of 3,000 to help him find it. Thompson’s seasoned–albeit surprisingly off the cuff approach is simply to travel to Torreon and place an ad in the paper. Thompson employs an interpreter to set up awkward interviews with prospective brides. That done, the two men wait in a hotel room for the phone to ring….

Deftly directed by Michele Ohayon, the film follows Rick’s romance, and also the endeavors of another lonely soul–dour used car salesman, James. While it’s difficult to swallow the various male theories of female menopause as the deux-ex machina element that swooped in and destroyed their marriages, it’s fascinating, nonetheless, to watch these couples and the choices they make. And while the American male perspective that Mexican women “expect less” than American women is nothing new, the Mexican women’s perspective of why a relationship with a “gringo” is desirable, creates some fascinating footage.

We see Thompson advising one man who’s suffered through three divorces, to deduct one, and we see Rick insisting on a target weight for any perspective bride. Meanwhile we get a glimpse of Thompson’s own less-than-successful marriage to a Mexican woman, the financial fallout from the event, and Thompson’s version of events vs. his ex-wife’s version. While the film did not alter my opinions in any sense–in fact if anything it underscored my skepticism regarding matches that combine huge inequities in age or socioeconomics, nonetheless, this non-judgmental film provides an entertaining look at an industry that is fed by loneliness and need. The digestibility of Thompson’s arrangements is made much palatable by the fact that a degree of chemistry is inherent in the matchmaking endeavors. Chemistry is either there or it isn’t, and it’s an unpredictable factor that sometimes frustrates Thompson’s efforts. That said, it’s probably not a coincidence that the Mexican dermatologist–a woman who has means and choices–was not willing to be rushed to the altar. And it’s unfortunate that this film probably won’t produce a follow-up (after the fashion of the Michael Apted 7-Up series).

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