Saturday, April 08, 2006

Quinceañera (2006)

I hate you, Sundance Audience Award! This slop may have wowed them in the oxygen-deprived air of Colorado, but I don't buy it for a minute. I think this is intended as one of those films where we're supposed to excuse the cliches and contrivance because it offers a window into another culture, and if it it lived up to that it would be a mere tolerable annoyance on the level of something like Smoke Signals or Travellers and Magicians. Alas, nothing in this film convinces me that Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, the two directors, actually know anything about the culture they're filming. Instead of creating art from within, they're standing outside of it like the white-boy tourists they are; consequently, their film is about as authentically "Hispanic" as a Choco Taco. The sitcom-level characterization and plotting, in the light of this fact, become somewhat less forgivable. The main plot thread is simple, predictable and burdened with bizarre, superfluous Virgin-Mary symbolism. Also unacceptable is Glatzer & Westmoreland's inability to coax naturalistic performances out of their (mostly) non-professional cast. The opening party setpiece has some of the worst amateur acting I've seen in a movie that doesn't involve tits and/or blood. Things improve a bit from there, and Jesse Garcia has a couple good scenes -- in fact, it's this film's homosexual-themed B plot that provides whatever shreds of interest kept me from bolting. It's not really written any better in terms of dialogue, but the directions in which it initially shoots off are refreshing and unpredictable. The early scenes are cannily set up so that we expect Garcia's character Carlos to have been ostracized as a violent gang-banger, which lends a tension to the house-party sequence later in the film. The subversion of said tension plays rather well. Glatzer and Westmoreland are clearly in their element with this subplot, and they probably should have gone ahead and made the film about Carlos instead. Except if they'd done that, then the film would be tagged as Queer Cinema and would never open anywhere other than the Strand, so I guess I can't blame them. I can, however, blame them for everything else that's wrong with this film: flat direction, flat writing, flat acting, just a general overwhelming flatness... just like its L.A. setting. If only they were smart enough to do that by design.

Grade: D+


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