A winning tale of sex, real estate, and more or less immaculate conception,
Quinceañera, as you might expect from a white-made drama about Latino life in Echo Park, threatens at first blush to be all about a pregnant teenager and a prodigal cholo in the ‘hood. Yet this saucy, rowdy, heartfelt, and terribly sweet movie—a popular item at Sundance this year, where it won the Audience and Grand Jury prizes—edges as close to a complex view from within as can be hoped for from a couple of gay boys who moved into the neighborhood.
The movie opens frothily on a quinceañera, the elaborate rite of passage undergone by Mexican Catholic girls when they turn 15. The ceremony is all pink-and-white tulle and Hummer limos on the one hand, all wild reggaetón partying on the other. Hovering in the background of her friend’s celebration is Magdalena (newcomer Emily Rios), a testy young thing who dreams of her own upcoming big day while consorting with her A-student boyfriend. When her expanding waistline invokes the fury of her religious father, Magdalena is banished to stay with her great-uncle Tomas (veteran Sam Peckinpah actor Chalo González), a local street vendor who already gives shelter to another family outcast, her cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia). Sexually ambivalent and borderline delinquent, Carlos resents Magdalena’s presence and begins hanging out with the two well-heeled gay men (David W. Ross and Jason L. Wood) who have bought the property where Tomas has lived for many years, and, propelled by a taste for money and firm young Latino flesh, set about gentrifying the street in more ways than one.
Quinceañera neither skirts nor condescends to the difficulties faced by poor urban communities assailed by rapid change. Assuming that writer-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland don’t rent, they’re implicated in the gentrification of Echo Park, but this generous, observant movie leaves no doubt about where their sympathies lie. Shot with a handheld camera for reasons more budgetary than aesthetic, it’s an untidy, vital slice of Latino life with a loving sense of place and a giddy, improvised feel.