Bella tells the story of Nina, a New York City waitress, and her co-worker José, a cook.
The kitchen of a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan is getting ready for the noon rush. Nina arrives late for the second day in a row. Manny, the restaurant owner and Jose's brother, fires her.
As Nina leaves, José follows her outside. She tells him she is pregnant but says she is not ready for a baby and is seriously considering abortion. He takes her to his parents' house and introduces her to his family. He then takes her into the garage and shows her his old car and also tells her that a few years ago he had been driving his car when he accidentally hit and killed a little girl. He was sentenced to four years in prison. After being released, he tried unsuccessfully multiple times to get in touch with the girl's mother.
José and Nina have dinner at his parents' house during which Nina finds out that Manny was adopted. José's parents tell Nina she is always welcome to stay at their house. José takes Nina to the beach, which is near the house. Nina tells José of how her father's death when she was twelve caused her and her mother severe emotional pain. Since Nina had no siblings and spent her childhood taking care of her emotionally crippled mother, she tells José how fortunate he is to have a loving family. The next day, before they each go their own way, Nina says she needs a friend to be there for her the next week.
José walks back to the restaurant and reconciles with Manny.
Several years later, José is playing on a beach with a young girl, Bella, Nina's daughter and José's adopted daughter. Nina pulls up in a taxi and meets Bella for the first time. The two exchange gifts. The movie ends as Nina, Bella, and José walk down the beach together.Eduardo Verástegui as José
Tammy Blanchard as Nina
Manny Perez as Manny
Ali Landry as Celia
Ramón Rodríguez as Eduardo
Angélica Aragón as José's mother
Ewa Da Cruz as Veronica
Alexa Gerasimovich as Luchi
Sophie Nyweide as Bella
Herbie Lovelle as a blind homeless person
Bella marks the feature directorial debut for Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, who co-wrote its original screenplay with Patrick Million. Bella features Manuel Perez, Angelica Aragon, Jaime Terelli, Ali Landry and Ewa Da Cruz. The film was produced by Sean Wolfington, Eduardo Verastegui, Leo Severino, Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, Denise Pinckley and Jason Jones. Executive producers were J. Eustace Wolfington, Sean Wolfington, Ana Wolfington and Stephen McEveety. It was financed by producers Sean Wolfington and Eustace Wolfington.
Stephen McEveety, producer of Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, consulted on the script; after the film was finished, he signed on as an executive producer to help market it. Bella is McEveety's first release under his new company Mpower Pictures.
Bella was produced by Metanoia Films. Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions acquired United States distribution rights to the film and released the film on October 26, 2007, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Bella has an approval rating of 44% based on reviews from 64 critics; the average rating is 5.4/10. The site's consensus states, "critics labeled Bella as a simplistic and mostly pedestrian, but positive word of mouth gave this tiny indie surprising theatrical legs." On Metacritic, the film has an average score of 47 out of 100 based on 18 reviews from critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews."
Robert Koehler of Variety wrote, "with its storyline based on such inexplicable behavior, Bella is seriously behind the dramatic eight ball, and trusts that the effective chemistry between the two leads will help auds ignore the many narrative potholes." Stephen Holden of The New York Times said in a less favorable review, "if Bella (the title doesn’t make sense until the last scene) is a mediocre cup of mush, the response to it suggests how desperate some people are for an urban fairy tale with a happy ending, no matter how ludicrous."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 stars out of 4, describing it as: "a heart-tugger with the confidence not to tug too hard." He concluded his review by writing, "the movie is not profound, but it's not stupid. It's about lovable people having important conversations and is not pro-choice or pro-life but simply in favor of his [Verástegui] feelings -- and hers [Blanchard], if she felt free to feel them. The movie is a little more lightweight than the usual People's Choice Awards winner at Toronto, but why not? It was the best-liked film at the 2006 festival, and I can understand that."
Bella resonated with adoption and pro-life organizations, who gave the movie high marks for its pro-adoption themes.
Bella took the "People's Choice Award" at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival.
Bella won the Heartland Film Festival's Grand Prize Award Winner for Best Dramatic Feature and the Crystal Heart Awards for Monteverde as writer/director/producer.
Bella's filmmakers received the Smithsonian Institution's "Legacy Award" for the film's positive contribution to Latino art and culture. "This movie depicts the culture but also transcends it," said Pilar O'Leary, executive director of the Smithsonian Institution's Latino Center. "It has universal appeal."
Bella received the Tony Bennett Media Excellence Award. Bennett said Bella is "a perfect film, an artistic masterpiece that will live in people's hearts forever."
Bella was listed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office for Film and Broadcasting on their list of the top ten films of 2007, noting that Bella presents an "affirmative pro-life message," along with "themes of self-forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption that should resonate deeply."
The director of the Department of Citizenship gave the director of Bella, Alejandro Monteverde, the "American by Choice" Award at a White House reception for Bella's positive contribution to Latino art and culture in the United States. Monteverde was also invited to join the First Lady Laura Bush in her private box to watch the State of the Union address.
The Mexican Embassy honored the film and gave Bella a screening at their annual Cinco De Mayo celebration.
Bella broke the record for a Latino-themed film in total box office earnings and box office average per screen for films released in 2007. It was the top-rated movie on the New York Times Readers' Poll, Yahoo and Fandango. The Wall Street Journal said Bella was "the fall's biggest surprise" and stated that "after only four weeks in release Bella has total sales of $5.2 million." Bella ended its U.S. theatrical release with more than $10 million in domestic box office, finishing the year in the top 10-grossing independent films of 2007.
Lionsgate released a DVD version of Bella on May 6, 2008. The same date, Thomas Nelson published the novelization of the film, written by Lisa Samson. (ISBN 978-1595546081)