A review of “Quinceanera” by Jeanne Aufmuth

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: R for language and sexuality

Run Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes



The charming rite of passage for a 15-year old Latino girl is the subject of this pleasing yet amateurish drama that won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at this year’s venerable Sundance Fest.

Hummer limos, catered eats and designer dresses are all the rage at a fashionable Quinceaňera in Los Angeles’ gentrified Echo Park. But not all families can afford fancy trappings to celebrate the fact that their adolescent daughter has become a woman.

For 14-year old Magdalena (Emily Rios) the dream of a posh coming-of-age party is only that…a dream. Dad Ernesto (Jesus Castanos-Chima) preaches God’s word at a storefront church and shuns the notion of limos outfitted with hot tubs and stripper poles, preferring to focus on the spiritual aspect of this significant occasion.

Quick as a wink ambitions are shattered. Magdalena finds herself pregnant by her gangling teenage boyfriend (J. R. Cruz as Herman), whose ambitious mother wants college for him and refuses to let the young couple meet. Ernesto throws Magdalena out of the house, forcing her to bunk with her great-uncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez) and big brother Carlos (Jesse Garcia) who was ousted by dad for cruising a gay website.

Writer/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland describe their project as a reinvention of the British Kitchen Sink drama of the late 1950s, fueled by the racial and sexual tensions and class distinctions of a neighborhood in transition.

The duo treats their conflicted subjects with respect, exploring the tri-generational warp and woof with affectionate sensitivity. Plot tangents probe up-to-date issues (Carlos’ boy-toy fling with Tomas’ landlord, the personal cost of restoring the urban landscape) with laudable flair.

Unfortunately the cast, most of them relative unknowns, deliver self-conscious performances that color the narrative’s slow and easy charm with the unintentional aura of convention. What should be fresh becomes wooden by virtue of ungainly technique. Snaps to the writers for sidestepping a tidy resolution but I wanted more.