It would be easy to question the motives behind a white director's portrayal of Latina gang life if it weren't as respectful, humane, and impassive as Mi Vida Loca. We get no sensational violence or easy answers here; instead, writer/director Allison Anders adopts an almost documentarian approach that lets themes and narrative threads emerge organically while the characters -- and their lifestyles -- speak eloquently for themselves. Even-handed and only rarely resorting to boys-in-the-hood clichés, the film laces its dramatic scenarios with plenty of character-driven belly laughs. The feminist subtext may seem a bit heavy-handed in one or two instances, but for the most part the director sublimates rhetoric to character. Forgoing a traditional dramatic arc, Anders structures her film into three separate vignettes, each of which breaks down into even smaller narrative units as the voice-over shifts from one character to the next. This allows the director to replay the same events from different perspectives, resulting in a film that's rich in nuance. It's hard to define "principals" in a cast this huge, but the meatiest roles go to a mixture of newcomers and pros. Angel Aviles is sweet and tough as the quietly intense Sad Girl, while Seidy Lopez displays great comic timing as the testy Mousie; it's a shame that neither actress has more than a handful of feature credits to her name. Nelida Lopez, Magali Alvarado, and Marlo Marron also went MIA after their fine performances here, although the talented Jacob Vargas, who was also featured in Anders' Gas Food Lodging, has been working steadily since he was a kid. Mi Vida Loca has been criticized for putting Latina actresses into stereotypical "spitfire" parts, but it remains one of the only American movies so far to furnish a rich diversity of roles for that specific ethnicity and gender.