That a white couple, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, managed to make an affecting, nuanced coming-of-age story set in a Latino community may be evidence that cultural cross-pollination does exist, even in our increasingly segregated society, or it may simply bespeak the talent of the directors.
Either way, Quinceañera, which won Sundance’s two most coveted prizes, succeeds as a complex narrative film, anthropologically realistic and dramatically crafted. Set in L.A.’s gentrifying neighborhood Echo Park, it centers on Magdalena (Emily Rios), who is preparing for her 15th birthday celebration (the highly ritualized “quinceñeara,” as important to a young Mexican woman as a Bat Mitzvah is to a Jewish girl). When the honors student gets pregnant, her devout father promptly ejects her from his home. She finds shelter at her great-uncle Tomas’s (legendary actor Chalo Gonzalez) small bungalow, where another lost soul, her rebellious, pot-smoking cousin, Carlos is also seeking refuge.
Awakening to his homosexuality, Carlos soon enters into a sexual relationship with the yuppie white couple (perhaps modeled on the filmmakers themselves, who co-habitate in Echo Park) who own the large property in front of Tomas’s. The performances are captivating, particularly that of first-timer Rios and the more seasoned Garcia, who pulls off the Brando blend of tough-tender perfectly. Yet the strong, beautifully written script is the movie’s trump card; let’s hope Hollywood hacks watch and learn.