Quinceañera   aka Echo Park L.A.
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
with Emily Rios, Jesse Garcia, Chalo González, Ramiro Iniguez, David W Ross, Jason L Wood, Araceli Guzman-Rico, Jesus Castanos, Carmen Aguirre, Johnny Chavez, Alicia Sixtos, Aris Mendoza
releaseUS 2.Aug.06, UK 29.Sep.06
06/US 1h30

Family ties: Rios and Garcia (above); Gonzalez (below).

Audience Award & Grand Jury Prize:

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Echo Park L.A. / Quinceañera Glatzer and Westmoreland shift gears rather dramatically after their last feature, The Fluffer, for this superbly realistic Los Angeles teen drama.

For Magdalena (Rios), her quinceañera (15th birthday) is one of the biggest days of her life. But her parents (Guzman-Rico and Castanos) can't afford the opulent event her cousin (Sixtos) had. And her boyfriend (Iniguez) won't admit that maybe they went a little too far. When her father has a meltdown, her bolthole is the home of Uncle Tomas (Gonzalez), who has already taken in wayward cousin Carlos (Garcia)--gang member, thief, drug-taker, and now he's sleeping with the new upscale landlords (Ross and Wood).

There's a superb sense of time and place here, as the filmmakers really capture the Echo Park community, with its Latino roots and rising trendiness. They're unafraid to tell it like it is, subtly examining economic issues, religious ideals and teen sexuality without exploiting them. The dialog slides easily back and forth between Spanish and English (with superb subtitles). And even though some of the plot threads seem to pop up or vanish a little conveniently, the film really finds its voice as a powerful central theme emerges: love without judgment.

Much of the film feels like a slice of community life, shot with a bracing realism that's documentary-like in its raw authenticity. The entire cast is superb, catching telling details in their interaction, and making the most of the straightforward dialog, which often sounds improvised. It's impossible to pick a standout; there's not a weak link in the ensemble. They're so offhanded and natural that it's like they're not acting at all; the grit and humour feel completely true.

And Glatzer and Westmoreland also finely balance the tone, with moments of sharp comedy, intense drama and aching emotion as they parallel Carlos' and Magdalena's journeys. This approach helps the filmmakers find real resonance in the characters and situations, and it lets us feel the emotions in a surprisingly strong way. When the core issue emerges, the film packs a very strong punch. This is a compact, finely focused little gem.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 9.May.06

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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall