RIP The Great Elizabeth Peña: 5 Reasons To Watch Her Film, ‘Batteries Not Included’

February 17, 2017  

Elizabeth PeñaElizabeth Peña

Veteran actress Elizabeth Peña, famous for her roles in “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Rush Hour,” died on October 14 in Los Angeles after a brief illness. Latino Review writer Mario-Francisco Robles, Peña’s nephew, said of her death, “My Ñaña is gone.”

Known for a film and television career that spanned the 1990s and 2000s, Peña recently starred in “Modern Family” as Pilar, mother of Sofia Vergara’s Gloria, as well as in “Matador.”

Her accolades are numerous, and she deserves the warm remembrances entertainment writers, critics and celebrities are sure to give her in the coming days. But, what matters most to me — what I’ll always remember Peña for — is her role as Marisa Esteval in 1987’s “Batteries Not Included.”

Don’t know what I’m talking about? If not, refresh your memory with the original trailer.

Facing threats from developers and a local gang, tenants in an old New York City apartment find help from an extraterrestrial source. Mechanical alien life forms, called “Fix-Its” by the tenants, befriend their human neighbors and adopt the building as their own.

What could have been an otherwise frightening plot quickly morphed into a family-friendly Steven Spielberg-produced smorgasbord. It’s the kind of film that fans of “Close Encounters” and “E.T.” love, which is probably why I watched it so many times as a kid.

Peña’s role is an integral part of the ensemble. In addition to the late, great Elizabeth Peña, here’s are few reasons why “Batteries Not Included” is an excellent film that’s worth your time:

It Passes The Bechdel Test With Flying Colors

In 1985, cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s comic strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For,” featured the first iteration of the three rules of the Bechdel Test. First, the film must have at least two female characters. Second, they must talk to each other. Third, they must talk about something besides a man or men.

Peña’s Marisa, a single, pregnant woman living in the tenement, regularly appears onscreen with Faye Riley, expertly played by the late Jessica Tandy. Men aren’t their only topic of conversation, especially when they meet and befriend the female “Fix-It.”

They soon learn the Fix-It is pregnant, which ultimately solidifies the interplanetary friendship.

So, not only does “Batteries Not Included” appease Bechdel; it also proactively passes whatever analogous test may govern inter-species relationships. That’s pretty damn cool.


Story Writer Mick Garris Later Produced “Hocus Pocus”

Garris, who wrote for “Amazing Stories” and originally pitched the film’s story to executive producer Steven Spielberg as an episode, went on to write 1993’s “Hocus Pocus.”

Disney’s fantastic live-action Halloween classic definitely plays the nostalgia card, but it also hearkens back to my blatant feminism. How? “Hocus Pocus” passes the Bechdel test, too.


Marisa Esteval Is A Strong Character

At the end of the movie, Marisa settles into a relationship with fellow tenant and starving artist Mason Baylor, played by Dennis Boutsikaris.

Though the film alludes to their mutual attraction for one another regularly, the relationship never takes center stage until one of the final shots.

Yet, Marisa’s character never requires Baylor, or anyone else, to stand on her own. Sure, she’s pregnant throughout and single for most of the movie, but Marisa gets by without help.

She’s not even a “strong female character,” as is often the term of choice. She’s just a strong character, plain and simple.


Feature Film Debut Of Brad Bird

Brad Bird. You know, the guy who won Academy Awards for “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille”? He also created a modern classic with “The Iron Giant,” and will soon blow our minds with “Tomorrowland.”

Yeah, that guy. He made his feature film debut with “Batteries Not Included” as a screenwriter.


Steven Spielberg Produced It

With classics like “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T.,” “Back to the Future,” “An American Tale,” “Arachnophobia,” “Hook” and “Jurassic Park,” Spielberg needs no introduction.

Whether as a director or a producer, he has singlehandedly shaped the cultural bedrock of our generation.

If you’ve never watched “Batteries Not Included,” you owe it to yourself — and to Elizabeth Peña — to see it.

It’s not streaming on Netflix, but you can contact customer support and request it. Otherwise, there’s always the good ol’ DVD player.

Photo Courtesy: Fanpop

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