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Powerful insights overcome sometimes tedious pacing
The Garcia girls consist of women from three successive generations: Dona Genoveva (Lucy Gallardo), the septuagenarian matriarch of the clan; Lolita (Elizabeth Pena), her stressed-out single-mother daughter; and Blanca (America Ferrera), her just-beginning-to-learn-about-life teenaged granddaughter. As the middle person in the hierarchy, Lolita has her hands full dealing with not only her own issues of a middle-aged divorcée struggling to make something of her own life, but those of an aging mother who's suddenly decided she wants to learn how to drive and to become romantically involved with the family gardener, and of a daughter who's just beginning to learn about boys and the strange impulses and yearnings that are suddenly pouring forth from her rapidly changing body.
At its core, "How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer" shows how the problems of sex, love and relationships cut across all generational lines. Genoveva, for instance, is every bit as interested in achieving physical intimacy with a man as is her virginal teenaged granddaughter. In fact, this is one of the rare films that even acknowledges, let alone dramatizes, the fact that older people can be every bit as sexually preoccupied and sexually active as their much younger counterparts. And the movie also notes that the social and religious taboos placed on senior citizens having sex are every bit as intense as those placed on youngsters for the same thing. And caught in the middle of all this is Lolita, who often doesn't know quite what to make of either her mother or her daughter - or how to find the right balance between her own desires and needs and the responsibilities of being a breadwinner, a supportive daughter and a guiding force in her child's life.
As written and directed by Georgina Riedel, "How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer," which is set in a small dusty town in the Desert Southwest, focuses so intensely on the minutiae of the everyday lives of these women that it's bound to leave some in the audience feeling restive and impatient throughout large stretches of the film. The movie is filled with languid scenes where not a whole lot seems to be happening, and the pacing is often more desultory than it needs to be, which doesn't make the time go any faster. Yet, in a way, the style effectively picks up the rhythm of life in a sleepy town, where the wealth of experience seems frustratingly curtailed and the future itself sadly limited. In fact, Riedel periodically cuts away from the "action" to focus on a group of elderly gentlemen who sit around all day discussing what they've learned over the years about cars and girls, in roughly similar terms - which explains a great deal about just what these women have to deal with on a daily basis just trying to come to terms with their own roles in a largely male-dominated world. And beyond the uncompromisingly truthful and understated performances by the three leading ladies, the director demonstrates a keen eye for composition that makes the film at least visually interesting even when the drama itself isn't always engaging us completely.
Thus, for all its flaws, "How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer" provides many compelling insights into what it means to be a woman - in particular an Hispanic woman - in the modern world.
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