Quinceañera is a movie I've been looking forward to seeing for a while, based on the several times I saw the previews before other films. A girl's coming of age story! Based on the tradition of the quinceañera, which I've always thought was cool! I was stoked.
Then I heard something about how the pregnancy in the film occurs without sexual penetration, and I became less stoked. Why can't the virgin just have sex? But I wanted to see it anyway.
And I'm glad I did, because it's a great movie. For the most part, it's a subtle and multi-layered story with good writing and excellent performances, intertwining stories about two teenage outsiders, Magdalena (Emily Rios), who finds herself pregnant after having almost-sex with her dumb-ass boyfriend Herman a few months before her quinceañera, and her cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia, who I remembered from the couple of times he was on The Shield, and who is just brilliant in this), a tattooed, pot-smoking "bad boy" whose real crime, we find out early in the film, is that he's gay.
Rejected by their parents, Magdalena and Carlos both go to live with their great uncle Tio Tomas, played by the estimable Chalo González, who was so good I could hardly believe it. A life-long bachelor, Tomas is described near the end of the film as "a saint" and he clearly is one, willing to take in these broken kids and help them make themselves whole again, learning how to take care of themselves and each other.
My only major complaint about Quinceañera is the bad dialogue in several of the scenes with Magdalena and her girlfriends. A seeming loop of canned-sounding bits about clothes and boys doesn't do these girls, or this film, justice. It makes no sense for Magdalena to be such a strong, interesting character and have all of her friends be wind-up dolls. Given how much I liked the film in general, though, that's a fairly small complaint.
Filmed on a budget of $400,000 on location in Echo Park, L.A., Quinceañera was a first film for most of the cast (Chalo González reportedly had to tear up his SAG card in order to participate, as the rest of the cast was not in the union). Written and directed with surprising sensitivity towards both women and Latinos by two white guys, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, it successfully addresses racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and the clash between (and melding of) old and new values in the urban Latin American community, all with an amazing sense of sincerity. It's a must-see.