Quinceañera (2006)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Coming-of-Age, Urban Drama  |   Release Date - Aug 4, 2006 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Moviegoers have seen plenty of movies about Los Angeles. That's where the screenwriters and studio execs live, so for 90 to 100 minutes, audiences live there, too. But they haven't seen this Los Angeles before, the version presented in Quinceanera. The film focuses on the Latino neighborhood of Echo Park, whose steady gentrification is both a plot point, and a real-world indication that it may soon become a setting safely homogenized for mainstream cinema. Writer-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland take a girl's 15th birthday celebration, a rite of passage similar to a Southern debutante ball, as a jumping off point to examine this vibrant part of the L.A. landscape that's rarely documented on film. And they do this surprisingly effectively, given that their backgrounds in gay cinema (Fluffer, Gay Republicans) may have made that part of the story more interesting to them. The two worlds collide in the character of Carlos (Jessie Garcia). The first shot of Carlos shows a gang tattoo on the back of his neck, so viewers might expect a heavy-handed look at a clichéd character type given to violent outbursts. But Garcia and his directors really humanize Carlos, surprising the audience with his homosexuality while refraining from making him a saint. Also quite astute is the film's dialogue, a hodgepodge of English and Spanish that recognizes the inevitable dual heritage of these characters. This pre-existing cultural displacement only becomes more pronounced when the scandals of Carlos and Magdalena (Emily Rios) ostracize them from their families. When their great-uncle Tio (Chalo Gonzalez) -- deservedly portrayed as a saint in this case -- assembles together this makeshift family of outcasts, it's a touching display of blind acceptance. Quinceanera may occasionally paint in broad strokes, but it tells its small story with warmth and respect, making it a true find.