Quinceañera

| October 14, 2006

Possessed of more heart than budget, and fatally cast with a few too many clumsy non-actors, this is nevertheless a pleasant, flavourful representation of the neighbourhood in L.A. known as Echo Park. Despite cruddy visuals, the filmmakers create a vibrant, vivid portrait of a Mexican immigrant working class.
As 14-year-old Magdalena prepares for her rite-of-passage ceremony (which supplies the title of the film), she discovers that she has, in a sense, immaculately conceived (no penetration, but quite some determined sperm found their destiny from a deposit on her leg). Her pastor father goes ballistic, refusing to believe that his daughter has not sullied herself, and puts her out of the family home. Magdalena seeks refuge at kindly Uncle Tomas’s, already a haven for Magdalena’s cousin Carlos, similarly turned out of his parents’ home, his crime (in their perception) a gay orientation.
Although fairly awkward at first, the actors eventually settle into their roles, establishing a sweet and amiable rapport (especially Emily Rios and Jesse Garcia as Magdalena and Carlos, two decent kids at odds with the traditional world) that won me over. I’m less certain whether some of the obviously improvised dialogue between the members of Magdalena’s group of friends works to establish a verisimilitude, or is just merely amateurish and cringe-worthy. Chalo Gonzalez as open-hearted and charitable Tomas exudes goodness and temper; through his steadfast generosity, I sense how he has saved two potentially lost souls on this earth, confirmed by a plainly moving speech Carlos delivers late in the film. Gonzalez is an earthy, tenderly commanding performer, and Tomas emerges as the most moving and human character on screen.
Both an audience and grand jury award winner at Sundance, the story is purely conventional in structure and pace, and as the film proceeds it’s clear that its soul rests in happy endings and tidy resolutions (expect no formally dynamic or original spins). It’s perfectly content to be modest in reach and goal (outside some of the main characters, who are allowed facets, supporting players are superficially written, the most egregiously so the venal yuppie gay couple who precipitate Tomas’s decline by evicting him from his home as revenge for a fall-out with Carlos).
On its own simple terms then, it’s a fair diversion, but nothing groundbreaking or terribly new.

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