A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)
In the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, 14-year-old
Magdalena learns that she is pregnant. Magdalena's great-granduncle
and gay cousin take her in after she is kicked out of her religious
family home, and together they all try to shake off the prejudices
that beset them.
the Mexican tradition, a quinceanera is a celebration
of a girl’s 15th birthday. It marks the passage from girl
to woman, with a religious ceremony and party. The film Quinceanera
opens with the celebration of young Emily’s quinceanera
in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Everyone is having
a good time at the party, until the appearance of Carlos, Emily’s
brother. We don’t know why Carlos is not welcome at this
family celebration. Carlos’ father fights with him, then
throws him out of the reception hall. Magdalena, Emily’s
cousin and daughter of the storefront minister, takes it all in
as she plans for her own quinceanera in a year.
As Magdalena’s quinceanera approaches, her only concern
is whether her father will rent a Hummer limousine for the day.
Things become much more complicated when it is discovered that
Magdalena is pregnant. Her parents are horrified. Magdalena’s
father tells her that she has not only brought shame to her family,
but to the church as well. Despite evidence to the contrary, Magdalena
insists that she cannot be pregnant, since she has never “been
with a boy.” Magdalena packs her suitcase and leaves home
in disgrace. She goes to the small house of her great-uncle, Tio
Tomas, who welcomes her. Carlos, whose conflict with his family
stems from being gay, has also taken refuge with Tio Tomas. In
the meantime, a gay Anglo couple purchases the property on which
Tio Tomas’ house and move into a garage apartment behind
Tio Tomas’ house. They meet handsome young Carlos and immediately
invite him to their housewarming party.
is a wonderful film that successfully interweaves many elements.
At the heart of the story are the young exiles, Magdalena and
Carlos. Will they ever be re-united with their families and communities,
or will they need to find their own way? At first Carlos resents
Magdalena’s presence in the small house. Gradually, however,
they form their own family under the accepting leadership of Tio
Tomas. Tio Tomas stands in contrast to the middle generation of
the parents, who are scandalized by the two young people. Another
strong element in Quinceanera is the cultural climate. The tight-knit
Mexican-American community of Echo Park is threatened with Anglos
moving in, represented by Jim and Dave.
Tio Tomas becomes the pivotal character in the film. He is a
figure of wisdom and compassion, and has the respect and love
of all. Carlos speaks the truth known by all when he declares
Tio Tomas a saint. Through unexpected circumstances, Tio Tomas
is the agent of reconciliation, reuniting the divided family.
Magdalena’s pregnancy is also declared to be truly a milagro
(miracle). The film that begins with celebration also ends with
Quinceanera is astute in its understanding of community. Community
is a necessity if individuals are to grow and thrive. Yet we also
see that community is never easy. Elements of scandal rock the
community. Those who are different are excluded. Then the entire
community suffers. Forgiveness and understanding are necessary
aspects of community. Community also needs its wisdom figures,
like Tio Tomas, to teach the younger generations by word and example.
Quinceanera is a warm film, yet it doesn’t shy away from
the conflict and tension that are part of every community’s
story. The festivity of a celebration can explode with anger and
violence. Young people will explore their sexuality and test limits,
and Magdalena and Carlos are no exceptions. While not explicit,
some scenes of violence and sexuality are still intense.
Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland,
Quinceanera is a wonderful exploration of community and culture.
Although I am not familiar with any of the actors, they all do
a fine job, particularly Chalo Gonzalez as Tio Tomas. I would
not be at all surprised to hear a lot more from the talented young
actors Emily Rios (Magdalena) and Jesse Garcia (Carlos).
At the close of this summer in which I have been privileged to
see many independent films, I know I’ll fondly remember
Quinceanera as one of the best.
Tom Condon, OP