Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Review: An Earnest Exploration of Friendship

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a coming-of-age film adaptation of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s beloved 2012 novel of the same name. This cinematic journey takes viewers through the summer of 1987, where fifteen-year-old Aristotle Mendoza, played by Max Pelayo, embarks on a transformative friendship with Dante Quintana, portrayed by Reese Gonzales. While the film touches on various themes, including friendship, identity, family, and love, it ultimately falls short of achieving the depth and emotional resonance found in the source material.

The movie begins by introducing us to Ari and Dante, two boys with contrasting personalities and backgrounds. Their initial meeting at the local pool marks the start of a poignant friendship, one that is built on a foundation of shared experiences and personal revelations. The classical namesake they both bear serves as a poetic metaphor for their unique connection, a connection that promises to uncover the secrets of the universe.

The Good:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2023).

Director Aitch Alberto captures the essence of their budding friendship beautifully, emphasizing the genuine moments of connection that occur between Ari and Dante. Their interactions feel natural and unforced, and the film is at its strongest when it delves into the heartwarming moments of their camaraderie. Dante’s role as Ari’s mentor, introducing him to literature and poetry, is particularly touching, as it showcases the power of friendship to inspire personal growth.

However, the film stumbles when it comes to portraying the depth of the characters and their inner struggles. While the novel delves into their innermost thoughts and emotions, the movie often leaves these aspects unexplored or only superficially touched upon. The result is that some of the emotional impact and character development that made the book so compelling are lost in translation.

One pivotal moment in the film is the accident that leaves Ari severely injured while saving Dante from an oncoming car. This incident serves as a turning point in their friendship, bringing their families closer together and setting the stage for deeper connections to be explored. The film captures the essence of this moment effectively, conveying the gravity of the situation and its impact on both families. Eva Longoria and Eugenio Derbez deliver heartfelt performances as Dante’s parents, adding depth to the story’s exploration of family dynamics.

As the story unfolds, the film explores Dante’s struggles with his sexuality and his move to Chicago, which adds an extra layer of complexity to his character. Reese Gonzales does an admirable job portraying Dante’s vulnerability and the challenges he faces in accepting himself. However, the film falls short in fully addressing the depth of Dante’s internal conflict and self-discovery, leaving his character feeling somewhat underdeveloped.

Max Pelayo’s portrayal of Ari is solid, capturing the character’s introspective and reserved nature. Ari’s journey of self-discovery and coming to terms with his feelings for Dante is at the core of the narrative. While Pelayo delivers a commendable performance, the film fails to fully explore Ari’s inner turmoil and the complexity of his emotions, leaving some viewers wanting more depth and insight into his character.

The supporting cast, including the talented Eugenio Derbez as Ari’s father and Eva Longoria as Dante’s mother, provides strong performances that enhance the overall emotional resonance of the film. Their interactions with their respective sons add authenticity and depth to the family dynamics portrayed on screen.

One of the film’s most powerful moments occurs when the truth about Ari’s brother, Bernardo, is revealed. This revelation is a poignant exploration of the impact of family secrets and societal prejudices. It adds a layer of depth to the film’s themes of identity and acceptance, highlighting the importance of confronting uncomfortable truths.

The film also tackles the issue of violence and discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in the 1980s, as seen through Dante’s experience of being attacked for his sexual orientation. While this aspect of the story is a vital and relevant commentary, it is not explored in as much depth as it could be, leaving a sense of missed opportunity to shed light on the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth during that era.

The Bad:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2023).

One of the film’s notable shortcomings is its handling of Ari and Dante’s romantic relationship. While the novel beautifully portrays the evolution of their love and the complexities of their feelings for each other, the film often rushes through these moments, leaving their romantic connection feeling underdeveloped and lacking the depth it deserves.


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a commendable adaptation of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s novel, featuring strong performances from its cast and capturing the essence of the source material’s themes of friendship, identity, and acceptance. However, the film falls short in fully exploring the depth of its characters’ inner struggles and their romantic relationship. Despite its shortcomings, it remains a heartfelt coming-of-age story that offers moments of genuine emotion and connection. While it may not fully satisfy fans of the novel, it still serves as a valuable addition to the genre of LGBTQ+ cinema, shedding light on the challenges faced by young individuals in the 1980s while on their journey of self-discovery.

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  • Acting - 8/10
  • Cinematography/Visual Effects - 7/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 7/10
  • Setting/Theme - 7/10
  • Watchability - 7/10
  • Rewatchability - 6/10
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About Caillou Pettis

Caillou Pettis is a professional film critic and journalist as well as the author of While You Sleep, The Inspiring World of Horror: The Movies That Influenced Generations, and co-author of Out of Time: True Paranormal Encounters. He has been writing in the entertainment industry for over seven and a half years professionally. Throughout the years, he has written articles for publications including Gold Derby, Exclaim!, CBR, Awards Radar, Awards Watch, Flickering Myth, BRWC, Starburst Magazine, Punch Drunk Critics, Mediaversity Reviews, Vinyl Chapters, Northern Transmissions, and Beats Per Minute.