At the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, QUINCEAÑERA made history as one
of the few films in the festival's history to pick up both the Grand Jury Prize and
the Audience Award. Now, I will confess that a movie winning any award at
Sundance always sets my radar off. In the past, I've watched movies that have
taken prizes and scratched my head wondering just what causes otherwise
seemingly reasonable people to support those movies. Is it the altitude, or
perhaps burnout from slogging through all the Oscar bait releases in the
previous months? Whatever the case, I was more than pleasantly surprised
when I saw
QUINCEAÑERA -- it was clearly deserving of some accolades.

A joint project of real-life couple Wash Westmoreland and Richard
Glatzer, whose previous collaboration was the middling
is set in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, a
neighborhood that has gone through several incarnations over the last few
decades. (One can even trace the changes via film, starting with 1986's
ECHO PARK and moving on to 1993's MI VIDA LOCA.) Westmoreland and
Glatzer were part of the recent trend toward gentrification. While living
in the neighborhood, they witnessed several local celebrations of female
residents 15th birthdays, a quinceañera, and they determined to make a film
incorporating this celebration. Within a year, they had written the script, cast
and shot the film and saw the movie accepted into the Sundance lineup.

QUINCEAÑERA allows the audience to enter into a world that would be
unknown. At the heart of the film is Magdalena (Emily Rios), a fourteen year
old obsessed with her upcoming party. Complications arise when she finds
that she's pregnant despite her protestations that she and her studious
boyfriend Herman (J.R. Cruz) have never had intercourse. (As it turns out,
there's a strange but apparently plausible explanation for her condition.)
Her religious family disowns her, and Magdalena ends up moving in with
an elderly great uncle Tomas (the terrific Chalo Gonzalez) who has already
opened his home to Magdalena's cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia, a real find).
Carlos dresses like a gangster wannabe, but he's harboring his own secret:
he's gay, which is why his family disowned him. Despite some initial difficulties,
the trio eventually form a loving familial bond.

Their placid existence, however, is threatened by the arrival of a new
set of landlords -- a gay couple that somewhat mirrors the directors. Carlos
develops a relationship with the pair that eventually unravels, causing a
dilemma that only serves to bring him closer to his cousin.

QUINCEAÑERA was one of the best films I saw at the 2006 edition
New Directors/New Films and I maintain it is one of the year's best.

       Rating:               A -
       MPAA Rating:       R for language, some sexual content and drug use
       Running time:      90 mins.

(Echo Park, L.A.)
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.