Film Reviews

Quinceanera Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland

Rating - 6/10

The Spirit Awards' "John Cassavetes Award" honours the best film of the year made for $500,000 or less. This year's winner is Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's film Quinceanera. Quinceanera has the look of film with a larger budget, and proves that quality filmmaking doesn't require all of the top shelf names in the business, or incredible special effects, or even deep pockets for that matter.

The title of the film refers to the Latin American tradition celebrating the first steps for into adulthood marked by a young girl's 15th birthday. The ceremony often includes an elegant dress, flowers, music, family and friends...and a tiara. Think part wedding ceremony, part beauty pageant.

The story is focused primarily around Magdalena (Emily Rios) and begins incredibly slowly at her older sister Eileen's celebration. The writer/directors jump from boring conversations among various family members reminiscing about previous Quinceaneras, or the food they are preparing, or young girls talking about certain boys at school. We finally get to the Quinceanera, which is followed by a dance and more lacklustre conversation about the whole event. This drags on to the point where I had to resist the urge to just stop watching. I'm glad I did, however. Things begin to come together about 20 minutes into the film, when it finally begins to focus on Magdalena.

Magdalena is a cute, somewhat shy girl enamoured by her boyfriend, a lanky boy named Herman (J.R. Cruz) who is genuinely infatuated with her as well. She doubts his loyalty following rumours of his involvement with another girl. After regaining her trust, the two reignite their young passion and Magdalena ends up pregnant. Upon finding out, her father is furious and a breakdown in their relationship results. She ultimately decides to move out of her parents' house and into her elderly Uncle Tomas' apartment, who is also housing her brother Carlos (Jesse Garcia). Carlos has been cast away from the family as well. It would seem the movie should begin at this point.

Though Uncle Tomas seems like a minor player, he represents the underlying glue that will hold this fraying portion of the family together. Carlos is a pot-smoking tough guy who wears tight white muscle shirts and baggy jeans, and shows off several tattoos. While working on a home improvement project, he goes to borrow some tools from the gay couple living in the upper part of the house he, his sister and uncle are renting. While he's waiting in their kitchen he looks angry, and uncomfortable. One of the men asks him to stop by for their housewarming party later that night. Carlos says he's got things to do but says he'll consider it and leaves. The man's partner is shocked and asks what he was thinking. When Carlos decides to stop by that night, the results are completely unexpected.

The dynamic between the tough, older brother and the young, pregnant sister provides a great foundation for the characters to develop. They are both soul searching, while having the good fortune of being able to rely on Uncle Tomas in their time of need. Tomas is known around the neighbourhood and loved by everyone he knows. His ever positive and supportive nature allows the closed off Magdalena and Carlos to open up and find self-assurance and strength and their relationship as a family is reinforced as a result.

For the budget, the film is very good overall. I rate it fairly low, based on a rating of 3 for the early portion, but a solid 7 or 8 after the film gets rolling. With more concise editing the film would have been more enjoyable as a whole to watch.