Review

Quinceañera Review

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Aug 11, 2006 | 12:35pm EDT

Magdalena (Emily Rios) is turning 15 and in Mexican-American tradition the event requires a big coming out party called a “quinceanera.” She is the daughter of a local preacher at a well-respected Los Angeles neighborhood church but as the family and friends prepare for the big event more family drama occurs when it becomes known that Magdalena’s cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia) who is already the black sheep of the family is gay. Carlos is taken in by their great-grand-uncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez) who has lived much of his life in a back house just recently bought by a white gay couple (David W. Ross and Jason L. Wood). Carlos is soon learning more about his sexuality by visiting them regularly. Meanwhile Magdalena has somehow become pregnant but insists that she has never gone all the way with her boyfriend. She too gets thrown out of the house by her parents and joins her cousin in the household of misfits where Tomas keeps a seemingly magical garden of memorabilia that reflects his life. When the gay couple evicts them it seems like their lives will be forever changed. For players with very little acting experience it's incredible to see the lively realistic heart-felt performances of the entire cast. From the tongue-clicking grandmas in the background who pinch the bottoms of cute guys to the three main leads everyone is so perfectly cast. As Magdalena first-timer Rios is breathtaking while Garcia having had some TV experience is a fresh find. His seething sensuality and understated anger shows that he has the acting chops to go all the way. Wood is actually the film's casting director who was reluctantly convinced to play the part when they couldn't find anyone else who read the part as well as he did. Magdalena’s boyfriend Herman played by J.R. Cruz is a handsome Latino stud with quiet sensitivity. But the best of the bunch is Gonzalez as the elderly Tomas. The actor was in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch as a youth but really gets to sink his teeth in with Quinceanera. It's no wonder Quinceanera won both the jury award and the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Co-writer/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland a couple in real life have made a true crowd pleaser for people of every persuasion race culture class gender and age group. At it's core Quinceanera is a coming of age story not only of a young girl but of a young man exploring his sexuality. There’s also the traditional family having their values challenged and an old man looking toward the end of his life. Lastly there’s a neighborhood and city dealing with gentrification. The directors made Los Angeles as much of a character as anything else shot in a gritty style with a kitchen sink motif made famous by British cinema in the 1960s. With the superb foot-tapping music in the background this is easily a new Muriel's Wedding or an even better My Big Fat Greek Wedding with a lot more heart and soul. Glatzer and Westmoreland are already known for their artistry in indie filmmaking but this should catapult them into the category of hot new directors to watch.

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