Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 01/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"'Quinceañera' is a little miracle of a film. Written and directed by the sensitive team of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland ('The Fluffer', 'Grief') this independent film garnered many awards at the Sundance Festival and rightly so. For the first time a film about the Latino community in Los Angeles is presented without the usual onerous stereotypes but instead with all the idiosyncrasies of a culture within a culture that respects place, time, extended family, the individual choices that demand courage, and the wondrously warm festivities and traditions that make this part of Los Angeles milieu so unique and special.
Made on a budget of around $250,000. with the money being raised by producers who solely believed in an idea (no script was ready at the time of solicitation of support) presented Glatzer and Westmoreland who lived in the Echo Park area of downtown LA and had witnessed the traditional coming of age at 15 with the special presentation to society of girls becoming women called Quinceañera: they felt a story was there. Gathering a cast of both known and unknown actors who felt as committed to the concept as the production team, Glatzer and Westmoreland wrote the script as the film progressed, using extemporaneous lines from the cast on set as part of the atmosphere. The end product is a loving, unpretentious, realistic story rendered without the slightest trace of treacle or overindulgence in histrionics or false sentimentality.
Magdalena (a strong Emily Rios) is 14, awaiting her quinceañera, knowing that her family cannot afford the extravagance of the event in which she has just been a participant. Her father is a preacher and will not consider spending money for a new dress or a limo for her party and while her mother supports Magdalena's wants, she succumbs to the realities of the finances of the family. Magdalena has a young boyfriend Herman (J.R. Cruz) and though they are careful with intimacy, Magdalena becomes pregnant without penetration. When her family discovers her pregnancy, no one will believe she is still in fact a virgin and she is castigated by her father (Jesus Castanos) and thrown from her home. Herman loves her but obeys his mother's wishes that he complete school and he leaves Echo Park, deserting Magdalena. Magdalena finds solace with her great granduncle Tio Tomas Alvarez (a brilliant Chalo González) who lives in back of a property in a home filled with love, memories, kindness, and tradition. He has also taken in the young pseudo-gansta Carlos (an impressively strong and hunky Jesse Garcia) who discovers he is gay when he comes out with the gay couple (David Ross and Jason L. Wood) who own the property in front of Tio's little place.
Gradually Magdalena and Carlos bond under the influence of their Tio Tomas, learning the important life lessons of family and self respect, healing from the injuries that are similar to the disappointments of Tio Tomas' past. It is the manner in which these three become a strong extended family, mutually supportive, that is the strength of the story, and when Tio Tomas suffers yet another disappointment in his life, he at age 81 dies quietly, leaving Magdalena and Carlos the richer for their time with him.
The supporting cast, drawn from professional actors, local theater and from the people of Echo Park, is uniformly strong and presents an unfettered sense of realism to the film. There are many exemplary moments: Magdalena and her father argue over her pregnancy in a bilingual fashion - the father screams in Spanish and Magdalena screams back in English, a finely integrated demonstration of the crossing of language and culture so well presented in the film; Carlos' eulogy at Tio Tomas' funeral is one of the more powerful monologues on film and is superbly delivered by the very talented Jesse Garcia; finally a look at the gay Spanish population so taboo in other films, again due to the fine acting of Garcia with Ross and Wood; and the preparations and executions of the actual quinceañeras are true to life. This is a film of love on the part of everyone involved and it is powerful in its simple realism. Highly recommended for everyone. Grady Harp, January 07 "
An Impressive Debut Feature
thornhillatthemovies.com | Venice, CA United States | 08/08/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Magdalena (Emily Rios), a young girl living with her family in Echo Park, a predominantly Hispanic area of Los Angeles, attends her cousin's fifteenth birthday, her Quinceanera, and she dreams of having an equally elaborate affair to celebrate her birthday in a few months. Flirting with her boyfriend, Herman, she kisses and hugs him, but doesn't go all the way. Her aunt offers to let her wear her cousin's dress because her family really can't afford an elaborate affair. She also offers to alter the dress for Magdalena. During the fitting, the fourteen year old realizes she is gaining weight. Soon, it becomes apparent she is pregnant. But her father, a preacher and part time security guard, doesn't believe she has never had sex and she leaves the home. Her great uncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez) takes her in and she becomes a part of the extended household which already includes her other cousin, Carlos (Jesse Garcia), a drift less young man who works at the local car wash, spends afternoons smoking pot, and was thrown out of his house for being gay.
"Quinceanera", written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, is a very good, very moving independent film which won the Grand Jury prize and the Audience award at the last Sundance Film Festival. You have never heard of Glatzer and Westmoreleand? They got their start in gay porn. Based on the quality of work shown in this film, I eagerly look forward to their next work. Errr... their next Independent film.
The key to the success of this film is the performances, particularly Emily Rios' portrayal of Magdalena. The character seems entirely natural and believable and I have to wonder if this is Rios' first film. I strongly suspect she came to this role an unknown. Magdalena is a 14 year old who has to deal with some problems in her life. Rios is very good showing this character's emotions, making us believe she is a real human being and not a fictional character created for a film. Because of her performance, we often feel like we are watching a documentary.
When she gets together with her friends, they are all wearing similar belts and variations on the same clothes. They talk about boys, what other girls were wearing today at school, etc. The refreshing thing is these kids are portrayed as normal. Perhaps struggling a bit in school, but they are living a normal life many people can relate to. Simply because they are Latina and living in a poorer part of town, they aren't involved with gangs, or get into fights, or any of the many other stereotypes we would be subjected to if this film were produced by a studio.
Magdalena's prized possession is her cell phone. The one piece of electronics she was able to save for, it keeps her connected to her friends and her family, but it also has a camera, so she records memories of her time with Herman, her boyfriend. When their relationship starts to deteriorate, she spends some time deleting his pictures from the phone, essentially deleting him from her life. It is a nice touch illustrating her ability to deal with problems in her life.
Jesse Garcia is also good as Carlos, Magdalena's gay cousin. Carlos is really a guy who would probably end up in a gang; he doesn't have a lot of prospects, he works in a dead end job, smokes pot, gets into trouble. But one day, he realizes he is gay and his world becomes very different, his perspective changes. His dad throws him out of the house and he goes to live with his Uncle Tomas. Yes, he still smokes pot, occasionally steals, but living with his Uncle rubs off on him. His Uncle's acceptance changes him. When Magdalena arrives, he suddenly has companionship, but isn't above treating her like his sister, arguing with her and trading insults. But he also feels like he has to help her.
Magdalena moves in with her uncle and cousin who live in a two bedroom guest house on a larger property. Soon, the new owners of the property move into the main house, a gay couple, and Carlos soon begins making frequent trips to "visit" his new friends. Later, he tells Magdalena he never had sex before he met them. All of this detail adds a lot of layers to his character, making him a memorable creation.
Chalo Gonzalez, much like Emily Rios, adds a lot of depth to the film, simply because he seems like a real person. As Uncle Tomas, he plays a wise elder, providing guidance when necessary. Considering his age and experience, he is well qualified. Even more important, he doesn't look down on anyone, let alone his fourteen year old pregnant niece of his gay nephew. He welcomes them with open arms as he is welcome within the community.
Later, as events transpire, Magdalena begins looking for a new place for them to live and finds a really nice, newly remodeled guest house owned by a Lesbian couple. One of the owners is very willing to let Magdalena's extended family move in, with her uncle's dogs, but the rent proves to be too high. Later, Magdalena returns and tries to work out a deal with the owner. As soon as the owner learns who her uncle is, he walks the neighborhood selling a traditional hot Mexican beverage from his large thermoses and once gave her a free cup of the drink; she agrees to let them move in at a very reduced rent.
Magdalena appears to have become pregnant without sexual intercourse, something her father doesn't believe but a clinic worker later confirms. How this happened isn't entirely clear, but I am sure thousands of teenage girls will be horrified to learn you can get pregnant simply by kissing a boy. This is a bit far fetched, but because the family is so religious (Dad has started his own church, her name is Magdalena) it is an acceptable stretch of the imagination.
Strangely, given the background of the filmmakers, the least interesting and convincing characters in the film are the gay couple who own the property where Magdalena lives with her uncle and cousin. They are a necessary part of the story, as they help Carlos experience his first sexual encounter, but they are portrayed as just a bit too stereotypical. Gary (David Ross), a Brit, has been in his relationship with James (Jason Wood) for six years with six months "off for good behavior". After they move in, they meet Carlos and share him during a sexual encounter. Later, Carlos starts to see Gary on a more regular basis. Throughout, these scenes are necessary to develop Carlos' story and character, but the couple is portrayed in a way that doesn't ring true.
"Quinceanera" is a very good film, filled with good performances and an occasional misstep. But in a way, this only makes the film seem all the more real and interesting; life is filled with missteps. Despite the age of the main character, I would advise people pay attention to the `R' rating. This film is good for adults and for their children, provided they are able to prepare them for the adult material, or help them understand it after watching the film. "
A WARM FAMILY HUG
GEORGE RANNIE | DENVER, COLORADO United States | 02/26/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Upon viewing Quinceañera, I can see why this small, made in three weeks, low budgeted ($250,000) film has garnered so many rave reviews. It is a truly heart warming film that has a marvelous and realistic bi-lingual script (Spanish and English with subtitles for ths parts in Spanish) it is wonderfully directed and MOST OF ALL, it has a GREAT bunch of actors giving GREAT performances. More importantly, for me, the movie gave me a cozy and warm feeling like one gets when one gets a comforting hug from a well thought of relative.
Emily Rios, as Magdalena is so very good! She at one moment is a very brash and sassy 15 year old Los Angeles teen eagerly awaiting the celebration--the Quinceañera. The next minute she is strong and resilient when faced with some nasty realities that life can dish out to us all. I fully expect Emily Rios to go on to be one of this country's greatest actresses. She is really that good. I adored Jesse Garcia, as her cousin Carlos--on the outside a heavily tattooed, willing to use his fists, pot-smoking thug but possessing a big heart that is capable of deep love for his elderly Uncle Tomas, capable of falling deeply in love and also capable of showing fierce family loyalties and willing to take on extreme responsibilities for his cousin after they all end up living under "one roof". I too expect great things in the acting department from Jesse. Chalo González, as Uncle Tomas is also great as the person that loves his family members no matter what they are doing or have done. In fact, everyone that appears in this film gives an outstanding performance.
I must add that the photography is great and the sound tract is fabulous ranging from Verdi's Aida to "Hip Hop" with loads of wonderful "Salsa" thrown in.
If you want to get a warm feeling from a film, buy this movie. "
It could open your eyes and heart.
Jesus Patino | Houston, Texas | 03/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The movie "Quinceanera" has all the qualities that make an Independant film an exceptional experience. The story gives the Mexican culture of celebrating a girls coming of age on her 15th birthday an unexpected emotional and entertaining twist that will provoke feelings of joy,sadness and understanding. As a bonous the DVD gives you an interesting look into the making of the movie and how it came together."
Well Worth the Wait
Melissa Henstra | Florida | 01/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I Found out about this movie, Then waited and waited, and then some more waiting. it never came out anywhere near me. So I was left to wait.. For the dvd release. yesterday at long last I rented it, sat myself down and got ready to love it. I did. Quinceanera was everything I hoped for and more.
Believable,genuine and full to the top with heart. Emily Rios as spirited determined Magdalena is refreshing and real. Jesse Garcia is intense and amazing as Carlos, I mean it, you can't take your eyes off this guy. Chalo Gonzalez is endearing perfection as Tio Tomas, You want him in your family.
For the most part the rest of the cast is great, and the few exceptions,and little problems within the movie don't hurt the film as a whole. one like this is rare, see this movie. "