Directors/Screenwriters: Wash Westmoreland, Richard Glatzer
Executive Producers: Todd Haynes, Nicholas Boyias
Producer: Anne Clements
Cast: Emily Rios, Jesse Garcia, Chalo Gonzalez
U.S.A., 2005, 90 min., English/Spanish w/ English subtitles
SUNDANCE 2006 Dramatic Grand Jury & Audience Award Winner
*As Magdelena's fifteenth birthday approaches, her life is consumed by thoughts of her boyfriend, her Quinceanera dress, and the Hummer limo she hopes will show up on her special day. Life seems so simple in her Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, until fate delivers and unwelcome surprise - she is pregnant. Immediately expelled from her religious family home, she is taken in by her great-granduncle Thomas and tough cholo cousin Carlos, who has been rejected by his own father for being gay. Together they form a makeshift family unit that must stand up to social stigmas and encroaching urban gentrification that threatens the only neighborhood they know.
Directing team Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer playfully label Quinceanera a "neo-sink drama," and indeed it is a reinvention of the "kitchen sink" dramas that peppered British cinema in the '50s and '60s. They were known for adult storylines, class conflict, and sardonic humor, but to consider Quinceanera so simply is an injustice. This is an authentically rendered glimpse into a world most likely driven through, with doors locked and windows rolled up, on the way to somewhere else. Westmoreland and Gratzer have molded the performances of their mostly unknown ensemble into a tender portrait of a changing world and, in doing so, have illuminated modern realities of family and hope.
*Summary by John Cooper, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
Though this film walked away with both the Grand Jury and The Audience Award, I was not as impressed with this film as I thought I would be. It did introduce us into a fascinating world that very few people see in LA. The quinceanera ceremony is a fascinating tradition to see, serving as a 'coming of age' celebration for teenage girls in the Mexican-American community of Echo Park, Los Angeles. There were just a lot of plot threads that went nowhere and pulled me out of the film. It seems as if the filmmakers were trying to turn the main character, Magdalena's, pregnancy into a spiritual occurrence. I mean, that is why Magdalena's father, a priest, chose to accept her back in his life, because she did not have intercourse. Yet, according to the nurse, her pregnancy still resulted from sexual activity, just not direct intercourse. After kicking Magdalena out of the house, would he really be convinced to take her back and recant all his fiery sermons just because she did everything sexual she could with her boyfriend, Herman, EXCEPT for intercourse? The spiritual/virgin birth angle was just dropped, and I was confused as to why it was brought up in the first place.
The actress who played Magdalena was nothing extraordinary, but the actor who played her cousin, Carlos, was fantastic. Carlos is a tough hoodlum who has been kicked out of his family and is living with his grand-uncle, Thomas. He is also a newly-outed homosexual who is still trying to come to terms with his feelings and relationships with other guys. It's a touchy and tricky performance that really works in the film and even pulls up Magdalena's performance. The most touching scene in the film centered on Thomas' death and the grief that Carlos and Magdalena endure after he is gone. The trio of Thomas, Carlos, and Magdalena bring the film its heart.
There are other details that bring the film down a notch in my mind. At one point, Carlos is sleeping with the owners of Thomas' property. His relationship with the owners goes sour, and they kick Thomas out of the home he has had for 25 years in retribution. Carlos attempts to confront the owners about this injustice, but they aren't home. Are we supposed to believe that Carlos would just have given up after that one setback? He is a passionate kid who cares for Thomas. Living just feet from the owner's house, I was surprised that we never see him try and settle the situation with the owners. The decision not to pursue that confrontation is not true to the character of Carlos that has been built through the film. I also felt that the finale of the film left a lot to be desired. Magdalena and Carlos have finally been accepted back into their families, and Magdalena's pregnancy accepted in her community. They both attend her quinceanera ceremony. It feels like it should be a sweet and touching final moment that focuses on the family and community goodwill towards these two protagonists. Surprisingly, there is some chintzy, cheesy music playing in the background of the ceremony, and the editing suddenly becomes quick and fractured, never allowing us to focus on the emotions in any of the characters' faces. It is a confusing choice in technique that belittles the power of the moment and undervalues the worth of the journey.