Park Life

Quinceañera. Jesus Castanos, Araceli Guzman-Rico, and
Emily Rios star in a film written and directed by Richard Glatzer
and Wash Westmoreland.

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

On one level, this is merely a film about a neighborhood. A
prizewinner at Sundance, and with the kind of topic you would
knee-jerk expect to win there, it tells the story of a
Mexican-American 14-year-old pregnant girl, her tough-looking older
gay cousin, and their kindly, aging uncle, the 13th child from a
Jalisco family of 22. They all come from homes that partake of rich
cultural roots, yet defy easy stereotypes, which lends the
gracefully told story the added fillip of being a film about twice
marginalized people whose desires seem reasonable yet never quite
work out. In other words, it has both the odd and the universal
tug, too. If you really want to pay attention, there is a further
trafficking in religious symbolisms: a “virgin birth,” a vision of
true sanctity and martyrdom and resurrection, to boot. It’s hard
not to think of it as latter-day Steinbeck.

But the chief pleasures of the film hang from its Echo Park
setting. Not long ago it was gangland, but Echo Parque today is the
wave of gentrification moving up Sunset Boulevard from Silver Lake.
It still has the vestiges of a barrio, but it also has snazzy art
galleries, rock clubs, and upwardly mobile types moving into
beautiful old homes set in a hillside that looks down on downtown
L.A., with its towering swank hotels and Frank Gehry concert halls.
In a way, Echo Park could be the long-overdue flowering place of
authentic culture in the city of angels. The filmmakers, who are
Anglos, manage to capture not only the real feel of the ethnic
neighborhood, but also the lives of a white gay community moving in
(not without bad misunderstandings), the community web formed by an
old man selling champaduras, and the rougher world of junior high
girl society.

What I like best about Quinceañera, however, is the imagery.
Innocence riding in a Hummer limousine opens and closes this story,
a backyard wine bottle shrine and the formal world of the
quinceañera party, a coming out, dissolving naturally into hip-hop
en Español. Though charming, Quinceañera has teeth, and a vision of
the streets that includes both graffiti and rose gardens, too.


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