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2007-08-14 12:57
What it’s about:

Magdalena (Emily Rios) is a 14 year old girl from a strict religious family living in the largely Hispanic community of Echo Park, Los Angeles. She is looking forward to her Quinceanera (coming of age celebration at 15) when she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. Her father throws her out of the house, and she ends up living with her great uncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez), who also cares for her outcast gay cousin, Carlos (Jesse Garcia). With their support, she is able to get back on her feet, and reclaim her life.

What we thought of it:

A film about a pregnant teen thrown out by her parents sounds at best mundane, and at worst, rather depressing. Quinceanera is neither of those, even though its focus is on ordinary people doing ordinary things, without ever resorting to cloying sentimentality, or overblown melodrama. If you think all of this sounds dull, you are in for a big surprise.

The cast is entirely star free, yet give fantastic performances that are real to the point where you may be left wondering whether you are watching a documentary. Emily Rios plays Magdalena without affectation, at one moment displaying her new found maturity, and the next crying and scared like a lost little girl. Her story in the film is the central one, and it is with her ever increasing awareness that the values of her family and community are shown.

When she falls from grace, she learns that Carlos is more than the disgraceful gay troublemaker that her family makes him out to be. Quinceanera shows how easy it is to be judged by a tightly knit community, for the most arbitrary things, and how heartbreaking that rejection can be. While there is plenty of sadness to be found, there is also plenty of hope, and the film finds humour and joy in the mundane and apparently insignificant.

Through the everyday rituals, the characters develop, in beautiful scenes like Tomas chatting to people while he sells soup from his trolley and Magdalena and Carlos prodding each to reveal their sexual experiences while doing the washing up. These vignettes fill what would otherwise be dead space between emotional money shots with warmth and joy. This makes for a film that involves you and creates real sympathy for the characters, despite their mistakes and flaws.

The most divisive part of the film will probably be the conclusion, which some may feel is slightly contrived, although certainly not impossible. If you are looking for indie film cred, then you will probably think it’s weak, but to others it will be a positive note to end a rich and textured story.

The writing / directing team of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland live in Echo Park and filmed Quinceanera in the houses of friends and neighbours. Westmoreland apparently also based the character of Tomas on his own great uncle, and so it’s no surprise that this film is so easy to relate to and so true to life.

Quinceanera manages the seemingly impossible by combining weighty drama with feel-good cinema. Well paced and fantastically acted, it will both entertain and move you. Packing a lot into a fairly short running time, it is highly recommended viewing for everyone, especially those tired of trite family dramas starring Dianne Keaton or Adam Sandler.

- Ivan Sadler
This beautiful slice of life movie manages the seemingly impossible - combining weighty drama with feel-good cinema.

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