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  Echo Park L.A. la vida loca
Year: 2006
Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Stars: Emily Rios, Jesse Garcia, Chalo Gonzalez, David W. Ross, Jason L. Wood
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Originally titled Quinceañera (in Spanish - a fifteen year old girl’s coming of age celebration), Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s second feature (following The Fluffer (2001)) is a warm, witty slice of life drama set amidst L.A.’s Hispanic community.

As Magdalena (Emily Rios) nears her fifteenth birthday, she discovers that in spite of still technically being a virgin, she is pregnant. Kicked out of her home by her strict, Catholic father, Magdalena finds a new life with her great-granduncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez) and cousin, Carlos (Jesse Garcia). Meanwhile, the troubled Carlos is having a secret relationship with the affluent, white, gay couple who now own the building. When Carlos’ pursuit of a solo affair with Gary (David W. Ross) angers James (Jason L. Wood), the knock-on effect sees Tomas stand to lose his home.

Supposedly inspired after witnessing the gentrification of Echo Park, the filmmakers portray a community caught in a state of flux. Change looms over the horizon, as embodied by Gary and James, significant not so much because they are gay, but because they are an upwardly mobile couple. They take a faintly patronising attitude to their new surroundings and treat Carlos somewhat like an amusing pet (A party guest observes: “They love their Latin boys”).

Right from the opening scene, depicting Carlos’ sister’s quinceañera, the film observes how the Hispanic community express themselves through ritual. Some witty parallels are drawn between the familial, Catholic rituals of Latin American tradition and the rituals of teenage life. Magdalena’s story unfolds via a litany of videotext messages, e-mails and high school gossip. The script shows a keen understanding of adolescent attitudes towards pregnancy and sex (Of Carlos’ sex life, Magdalena inquires: “Are you the peanut butter in their sandwich?”).

The film is rather vague about Carlos’ background as a gang member, but presents his homosexuality without resorting to cliché. Although he never admits as such to Tomas, he is frank about his sexuality with Magdalena. His dilemma seems less about coming out as gay and more about how Gary and James seem unwilling to offer anything beyond sex. Carlos later offers himself as a surrogate father to Magdalena’s child and in a neatly ironic subversion, two outcasts come to best represent family values. Magdalena’s ‘virgin pregnancy’ and the way Tomas’ fate unexpectedly heals the rifts within his family, evoke particularly Catholic ideals about the miraculous, death and rebirth, and self-sacrifice.

Ultimately, despite the misgivings of an older generation, it is the youngsters who continue traditions of family and community. While several of the peripheral adults give somewhat shaky performances, the teenagers are naturalistic. Garcia and Rios are especially compelling and will hopefully go on to even bigger things. Gonzalez is similarly captivating, with his warm, wistful recollections of the past. Overall, a beguiling film with a great generosity of spirit.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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