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Echo Park and Jesse Garcia
charlietperez1 May 2007
A slice of life from a very recognizable other planet. The Echo Park section of Los Angeles. It could be so many other places and at the same time it couldn't be anywhere else. New life and death co-mingling in almost perfect harmony. Love coming out of the most unexpected quarters, heroic gestures, prejudice and solitude. There is much to commend in this tiny tale with major implications. Two directors with a compassionate look and real affection. For me, personally, meant the introduction to a major talent: Jesse Garcia. He plays a character that seems to walk a permanent tight rope and yet he is so completely himself that you can't take your eyes of the guy because you know for certain he is going to surprise you in the best possible way. Excellent.
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QUINCEANERA is a lovely, sweet, real, touching charmer One of the best of 2006
IAN-Cinemaniac20 July 2006
I just had the pleasure of catching this lovely gem QUINCEANERA (aka: Echo Park, L.A. in Europe) and I absolutely adored it. It was so refreshing to see a movie about Mexican Americans that wasn't all about gang violence and drugs. This is a lovely and insightful film about family, tradition and life as a Latino in Los Angeles, California. This film deals with a lot of issues from homosexuality, teen pregnancy, family, racism... without ever seeming preachy or forced. The acting by the two leads is some of the finest I've seen in a while and I'm a movie addict. And just when you think the film is about to stumble into the world of cliché it's lifted to an even higher level of beauty and realism. I don' know what else to say without giving away too much other than see this film and you won't be disappointed. This is by far one of the best and most rewarding films I've seen so far this year and that's saying a lot from a guy that sees way too many movies. See this movie and tell your friends about it because they don't make enough movies like this and this kind of art needs our support.
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A great film with no sex and no violence - so why the R rating?
1124-29 August 2006
When I went to see this film, I had no idea what it was about, other than that it had something to do with the 15th birthday of a latino girl. It was a preview and the ticket was free. I was very pleasantly surprised. This is a either a little gem of a movie or a gem of a little movie. It shows a little slice of life - centering around the (major) problems of members of a latino extended family in Los Angeles (mostly the younger members). I'm not latino, and I live in northern California - so I have no idea how accurate a picture it is, but the picture is nevertheless true to life. All the characters are very believable - a rather rare description of an American film these days. I have never heard of any of the actors, yet without exception the acting was superb. Every character seemed very real, like people I have known. Halfway through the film, I did not know where it would end - the story could still have turned in several different directions. With the exception of an anglo gay couple, all the characters spoke in both English and Spanish, as many Mexican-Americans do in California.

For some bizarre reason, one of the major characters - Herman (played by an actor named J.R. Cruz, is not listed in the credits in IMDb.
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Universal story with sincere acting
SWArizona30 January 2006
I think this movie will have universal appeal. This story of family learning to accept each other, along with coming of age, and changing urban centers will resonate with people around the country no matter whether they know what a quinceñera is or not.

The cast is mostly non-union, and the performances they give are brave and fresh. Three cheers for Emily Rios and Jesse Garcia, who played the leads, and cousins, who are struggling with acceptance from their parents, and take shelter with their elderly great-uncle.

I also saw this at Sundance, and the film got a standing ovation. I was surprised it took both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards, but not surprised it resonated on such a fundamental level with the cast.

Directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer said they began writing the story on New Year's Day of 2005, and the entire thing came together fast - 3 weeks for financing, another three to film on their very own street of Echo Park.

I think it's specific enough to interest people, and universal enough to keep them watching.
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Quinceanera was great!
gardenluvnnurse11 March 2006
Although it wasn't a first pick, I was able to get the time slot I wanted at Sundance to view this film. We were so impressed with the film that it was almost a post viewing panic session that we could have missed a film this awesome just because it didn't have any "big names" in it. Jesse Garcia is the next "big name" in Hollywood! Keep your eyes on this guy. His portrayal of a gay Hispanic gang member just blows all stereo types out of the water. Chalo González is a national treasure, and outshines the entire cast as Uncle Thomas. Emily Rios is also a great find, and really does a great job in her first big role. Listening to the writers/directors in person detailing their own experience of moving to Echo Park California, and witnessing the gentrification of the area which inspired the film, made this screening even more sweet. The only flaw that I could find was that I wanted to see more of Magdalena's family, and thought those relationships could have been fleshed out more to better understand why they did the things to her that they did. The entire cast was so approachable after the screening and Q&A, that it made me want to go out and do all their PR work for free! Glatzer and Westmoreland said to look for this film on HBO, so hopefully that will be the case really soon for the general public. Catch it if you can; it's worth the time.
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peggertsen1 February 2006
This Sundance award winning film refreshingly addresses the Latino/American culture as experienced in the Echo Park area of L.A. Some themes running throughout are coming of age through the exciting wedding-like Quinceanera celebrating the 15th birthday of Latino girls. I was impressed by the honesty and goodness of each character in their chosen lifestyles. Spirituality runs throughout the formalized services headed by Magdalena's father(the serious but judgmental religious type)to the nonjudgmental Tio Tomas' acceptance and love given to all, regardless of circumstances, lifestyle, or "sin."

Echo Park culture is shown to make the most of what they have, without self-pity or whining. This movie should make the big screen for it's flair, artistry, honesty, and empathy for our country's largest minority, under-represented till now. Hooray for Quinceanera! It's joyful and a and real "upper."
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By far the best movie so far this year.
hobyah76 August 2006
A friend and I saw Quinceanera this afternoon - during its first weekend in general release - with a mixed audience that included numerous latins. It was interesting to note that some of the humor in the film went untranslated - but not unmissed by that audience.

My friend and I have been obsessively talking about this gem of a movie ever since leaving the theater. The most remarkable thing to me about the film is that there are no "wincible" moments anywhere. The characterizations are dead-on, and you never feel preached to, even though there are some clear messages here about tolerance, faith, family and love.

I am urging everyone I know to see this film.
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Realistic and refreshing
ramona_bourhis12 July 2006
No one is perfect and this film may have its flaws but what a realistic and refreshing look at LA! The young actors do a great job, portraying their characters genuinely -- no trickery, no exaggeration. The film-makers successfully depict the Echo Park area, with its people and its traditions as well as the new challenges facing the populations of Metropolitan LA. It is indeed good to see Los Angeles in a new light, with its culturally rich neighborhoods that tend to be either forgotten or ill-represented by mainstream Hollywood films. My personal pleasure: finally a film with actors that look like and speak like the characters they embody! The Spanish spoken is correct and accents are credible! Definitely recommend it.
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Sweet fifteen
jotix1008 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Mexican and other Latin American immigrants bring with them their traditions. It's a custom in many Spanish speaking countries to have a big party in honor of a girl who celebrates her fifteen years, an age where they are considered to have reached a milestone in their womanhood. We are taken to a celebration of an elaborate "sweet fifteen" party at the start of the story, in which the girl, being honored dresses in a gown and is accompanied by her closest friends. These parties become quite elaborate, depending on the income of the parents.

Magdalena, a pretty young woman, not yet fifteen, attends her cousin Eileen's party and is paired with the young man she is in love with, Herman. Eileen is the center of attraction, as she dances the opening waltz surrounded by her attending friends and their escorts. It's clear that Eileen's parents have done well in their new adopted country, and they dote on their daughter. Magdalena's parents, on the other hand, are struggling to make a living.

During the celebration, Carlos, Eileen's disgraced brother, crashes the party to present some flowers he has stolen to his sister, but he is chased away. Carlos, who is gay and has no place to go, ends up taking refuge with his great-uncle Tomas, an elderly man living in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles. Tomas lives in the lower level of a house that has been bought by two gay lovers. Gays, in general have been buying property in Echo Park, displacing the Mexicans, as they gentrify the area.

Magdalena, who would be fifteen soon, is offered her cousin's dress for her own party. Unfortunately, she has filled up and the gown is too small for her. Herman, who has been making sexual demands of Magdalena, was impregnated by the young woman, something that in their inexperience didn't count on. When Magdalena's father discovers the truth, he banishes her from his house; he feels as though she has betrayed her parents and her church. Magdalena also takes refuge with Uncle Tomas, the kind man who welcomes all these problem children without passing judgment, or speaking down to them.

Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, the directors of "Quinceanera" have produced a surprising work that examines a lot of problems within the Mexican community in L.A. They also seem to have in mind the way that gentrification ruin the same area they are trying to improve. On the one hand, yes, they get fantastic prices for property that is beyond the means of most poor families, and then, they don't contribute anything to the fabric of the people they are displacing. The invaders, mainly gay, are another minority that has been discriminated, but they actually just concentrate in real estate values, rather than sharing the area with long standing Mexicans living in the area.

The film is made better by the two stars, Emily Rios and Jesse Garcia. Both Ms. Rios and Mr. Garcia make their characters more appealing with little effort. Chalo Gonzalez, a veteran actor plays the kind Tomas with his usual style. J.R. Cruz is seen as Herman, the boy who disgraces Magdalena and runs away from her at the time he needed his support.

"Quinceanera" is a bittersweet story made with great love by its creators, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. This is a film that will stay with the viewer because of its simplicity which has an universal appeal.
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Poignant yet uplifting story
lisahunt-125 January 2006
This was my favorite movie at Sundance this year (2006). It involves a lovely yet troubled Mexican-American family in Los Angeles. Magdalena, 14, dreams of her upcoming Quinceanera (the dresses, the limo, her friends) but unfortunately becomes pregnant! She is kicked out of the house by her preacher father and ends up living with her uncle (a lovely elderly tolerant gentleman) and her gay, estranged cousin. This unlikely trio becomes a true family, helping each other through challenging times.I loved the message of tolerance, being non-judgmental, and creating community and family. I found myself laughing, crying, and giving a standing ovation for this lovely story and cast at the end of the film.
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Everyone Needs an Uncle Tomas
wmjaho28 February 2006
2006 Sundance Film Festival Quinceanera, for the Hispanically challenged, is a traditional ceremony and celebration of a girl's 15th birthday, her transition from childhood to maturity. In this movie, the event centers on Magdalena, an otherwise role model of a girl and daughter of a part-time preacher who gets pregnant before her 15th birthday, despite her claims to have never had intercourse. To manage the conflict at home, she moves in with her Great Uncle Tomas, who also houses Carlos, her tattooed and tough-guy cousin who is also estranged from his parents, mainly because he is gay.

By all accounts, this movie ought to be panned. The script, while evenly paced, never rings true. Most of the characters are flat. The acting lacks inspiration or enthusiasm. But still, I was moved, because at the heart of the story is the impact of Uncle Tomas, who with the wisdom of the aged is able to look beneath the surface of these two young cousins and see only goodness. He is filled with kindness and compassion, although the movie never let's itself get nearly as schmaltzy or overly sentimental as my description of it.

I suppose this idea of accepting the differences in people—Hispanics, gang-bangers, gays and pregnant teenagers—is tired and hackneyed in its political correctness. But there's something about a glimmer of truth that is warm and enlightening. So, that said, I dug the movie.

Side note from the writer/directors: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland are gay and live in Los Angeles. Wash is British. And it so happens that two of the main characters in the movie are gay lovers, living in Echo Park in Los Angeles, one of whom is a Brit. So naturally, someone in the Sundance audience asked them if these characters were, you know, autobiographical at all. And naturally, they said no, it was just a coincidence. And I guess I believe them because they had the guts to write these characters as not entirely likable. In fact, if Pat Buchanan had written he script, someone would have accused him of being homophobic. Strange but true.
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Good.....but had some serious story problems.....
Khaderach1916 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not going to give you a summary of the movie heres what I thought was great about it and its flaws.

first and foremost, the actors are a great find. Jesse Garcia and Emily Rios pretty much drive this story forward. Carlos's eulogy at the end of the movie almost made me cry due to the the strength in Garcia's portrayal of Carlos. Rios shows great control and maturity for being so young in the business.

now my gripes about this movie. I interpreted this as a story about facing reality. Both leads are being sheltered by their culture and families. Magdelana is pretty much under the control of her father and Carlos is being held back from what he could potentially become because of the society that he lives in. Magdalena's crisis occurs when Herman suddenly leaves her, either by choice or familial influences. Carlos's crisis occurs when he falls for Gary, once he realizes that he doesn't feel the same way, he is forced to rely on what he knows best, his "thug" nature to see him through his heartbreak. Once both these events occur, you see for the first time both Magdalena and Carlos face a much harsher reality that what is normally seen in echo park.

My biggest critique about this movie was its ending. I was definitely hoping for both the leads to find a new way out of their desperate situation, but in the end go back to their protected worlds again. This was pretty much summed up when Magdalena comes to her own Quiceanera in a Hummer limo. I was disappointed at how going through such an ordeal, and still pregnant, that she would go back to her materialistic ways. Although that her father said that he would make it up to her, I hoped that she would outgrow her own wants and needs and learn how to really survive in the real world. Instead the directors give us an ending that was meant to be "happy." what happened to character development? Its like they threw it out the window.
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ArizWldcat29 January 2006
"As Magdalena's 15th birthday approaches, her simple, blissful life is complicated by the discovery that she's pregnant. Kicked out of her house, she finds a new family with her great-granduncle and gay cousin. "

This is the plot summary given on the IMDb page. I saw this film as part of Sundance, and I enjoyed it. There are many thought provoking aspects of the film. While I did enjoy the film, I don't know if it was the best I saw at the festival. I see now that it won BOTH the jury and the audience award for best dramatic film. I offer congratulations to the filmmakers.

One woman in the Q and A session afterward gushed that this was "just like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding,"and that she hoped it would be as successful. I don't think it will be, because this is just not the kind of movie that appeals to wider audiences. The reason why that particular film was popular was that it could be enjoyed comfortably by the whole family. While this one was good, it just won't have the mainstream appeal "Greek Wedding" did.

I was not as impressed as most who viewed this movie. It was merely mediocre.
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Sundance favourite, and deservedly so
harry_tk_yung13 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
(Watched in Toronto)

This year's Sundance favourite "Quinceanera" is an American film, reflecting some of the aspects of the lives of Latin Americans in the Echo Park area of L.A. It is tastefully understated and convincingly realistic. The young cast, quite unknown, is simply marvelous.

Quinceanera is a Latin custom of celebration of the coming-of-age of a girl at 15, a custom found also in many other cultures, although the designated age varies. The movie starts with some very familiar music, first the majestic march from "Aida", then the enchanting "Fascination", played during the ceremony for, not the protagonist Magdalena (Emily Rios), but her cousin lovely Eileen (Alicia Sixtos). Magdalena's is next.

The other of the two key characters is Carlos (Jesse Garcia), Eileen's brother, a delinquent son (in the eyes of the traditional Catholic family) who tries to come home to wish his sister well at the party but ends up being thrown out.

The somewhat fragmented story evolves around these two cousins, Magdalena and Carlos, who start out apparently not caring much for each other, and, through their respective vicissitudes, find mutual trust, affection and support, ending the movie in a heartwarming upbeat note.

Very briefly, the plot is that Magdalena, approaching her own Quinceanera, finds herself pregnant as a virgin, not a miracle, but a rare phenomenon that can be scientifically explained as "pregnancy without penetration", as a result of romantic activities with her boyfriend that is technically not sexual intercourse. But before she can secure conclusive medical proof, the not unexpected violent (not physical) reaction form her father results in her leaving home to stay with her great-grand uncle, a wonderful, 83-year-old man Tio Thomas (Chalo Gonzalez) who is described as "a saint", and in whose humble abode Carlo also finds refuge. The story evolves around this temporary household of 3.

While Magdalena's pregnancy and her relationship with boyfriend and family takes various turns, Carlos develops a gay relationship with one of the pair of yuppie neighbours who are also their landlord.

As I said, the story is somewhat fragmented. It's the characters that drive the movie and eventually win your empathy. We often see in movies characters that are initially presented in very unfavourable lights and turned, in the end, into someone that the audience completely roots for. This is not always done successfully, such as in Ozon's "Time to leave". The transformation of Carlos here however is completely successful. Truly captivating however is Magdalena, presented in refreshing, realistic minimalism. Much credit is due to the two young actors, Garcia and Rios. Completely free from over-dramatization, this movie gives an honest account of the problems facing these two young people, and how they handle them. There are brief moments that are truly touching and a wonderfully uplifting ending.

Winner of both Audience Award and Grand July Prize at this year's Sundance, "Quinceanera" is highly recommended to those who to do not restrict themselves to Hollywood main stream flicks.
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Shattering stereotypes
aharmas22 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"Quinceanera" is one of the most welcome and freshest surprises of the year, a small film that reaches deep inside cultural stereotypes and manages to portray a group of people in many different and unexpected ways. "Quinceanera" follows a couple of Latino teenagers, exploring the resources and hurdles they must deal with to deal with their respective ordeals. Magdalena is a feisty teenager who must grow up suddenly and realize that her typical Latino family is not as united as most of us expect it to be. Her cousin, Carlos, has also been kicked out of his own home because he exploring his sexual identity. In the mix comes an older relative, their common uncle, a man who is kind, wise, and also vulnerable, Tomas. Tomas is one likable character who is realistic and quite loving.

The film shatters the stereotypes of those who view gang members through one single perspective, as we see Carlos' adventures, as he gets to know his new neighbors. Magda is a vibrant character who discovers that she can't quite rely on those she believed are her support base.

The film shows Los Angeles as a living, changing organism, showing the interaction between the old and new residents of a metropolis who is constantly renewing its infrastructure. We see the new generation of teenagers as they juggle their old traditions with their need to integrate themselves into their ideal American society. There are also hints of prejudice as we see Magda searching for a place to live, and the interactions between the white newcomers to Echo Park and their Latino counterparts.

"Quinceanera" is only portraying a society and its various cultures in a refreshing and very accessible way. It is bound to spark some controversy as some members of the Latino community might deny that their old ways are certainly changing but are pushed down in order to preserve traditional values. The dialog is alive and crackles. There are some very moving and funny lines, proof that in order to have a good film one must begin with a very good script. Let's celebrate the arrival of a new generation of artists who are trying to bring back the power of the word.
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I applaud these directors.
jdesando24 August 2006
"It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today." Isaac Asimov

There isn't much more that could happen to a 14 year-old Latino girl than occurs in Quincearnera, a stew simmered in the Echo-Park section of Los Angeles.Change is the dominant motif as it affects every major and sub-plot point to the point that nothing is explored in depth while much happens.

Before the celebration of her Quincearnera (15th birthday, when a girl becomes a woman, Magdalena (Emily Rios) is pregnant although the circumstances are questionable if not downright miraculous; bad boy brother Carlos (Jesse Garcia) is gay; they and their old uncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez), who has kindly sheltered the two after they are shunned by the family, face eviction as the area is going to gentrification faster than you can say the film's title. The change also visits her dad, who struggles to accept his shameful daughter despite the cultural negativity.

Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland drive their camera through and around the streets of Echo Park and the yards and living rooms to fulfill the promise of the production company, Kitchen Sink. The kitchen-sink movement in the 50's and 60's especially in England showed basic working class family life, such as Mike Leigh currently does, and still allowed the old higher-class staples of irony, tragedy, and comedy take their rightful place. In Quincearnera, however, the topics are subsumed under the change idiom, allowing the directors to use the gays-smartly-investing-in real-estate motif without much to say other than rents become very high.

Although Magdalena's pregnancy seems to be the center of the tale, the film also touches on the changing fortunes of minorities, the emergence of gays as both owners and landlords, the challenges of adolescence, and the power of family. For those subjects, I applaud these directors.
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How to Make a Great Movie with a Very Low Budget
claudio_carvalho28 June 2008
In Echo Park, Los Angeles, the teenager Eileen May Garcia (Alicia Sixtos) has a dream fifteen years old party. Her cousin Magdalena (Emily Rios) is fourteen years old and will be the next in the family to celebrate the "Quinceañera". However, her father is the local preacher and security guard and cannot afford and expensive party and Magdalena will wear her cousin's dress and dreams on arriving in a limousine like Eileen did. However, her dreams are shattered when she finds that she is pregnant of her boyfriend Herman (J.R. Cruz), in spite of being virgin. Her father expels her from her home and she moves to the house of her uncle Tomas Alvarez (Chalo González), who lodges his troublemaker gay nephew Carlos (Jesse Garcia) in his house, and the trio raises family bonds.

"Quinceañera" is the evidence that it is possible to make a great movie with a very low-budget, supported by excellent screenplay and performance. The enlightened character Tomas that survives selling "champarraro" is one of the most beautiful I have recently seen. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Meus Quinze Anos" ("My Fifteen Years")
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I am shocked this film won the Sundance Audience Award....
turkam24 September 2006
"Quinceanera" is a genuinely bad film. The first 15 minutes show promise, but it goes downhill quickly. The plot is convoluted and ridiculous at every level. The subplots are disoriented. And, everything that is going to happen in the film, except for the ultra-ridiculous ending, are telegraphed well in advance. I don't fault the young cast as much as the dreadful directing, and sloppy screenplay. There are many good indy films about Latino issues out there, including "Raising Victor Vargas" and "Real Women Have Curves." Both of those films are more believable. Lastly, if "Quinceanera" proves anything, it is simply this: "Sixteen Candles" and "My Own Private Idaho" don't mix.
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Good But Not Award-Winning Great
fwomp23 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Knowing very little about Quinceañera or what it meant to the Latin American culture, I decided to watch QUINCEANERA because of its unique take on their culture in the Echo Park region of L.A., and the touchy subject of homosexuality within this demographic. Being an independent film was an added bonus.

Pulling talent from the community in which the film was shot, Quinceañera has no well-known actors and only a few with some recognition. The exception is Chalo Gonzales who's claim-to-fame was in Sam Peckinpah's 1969 smash, THE WILD BUNCH. Seen little since then, Chalo picks up a great part in Quinceañera as an aging uncle who plays more a bit part but gives the strongest performance in the entire production.

Speaking of unknowns, I'm all for using them as long as they can act modestly well and deliver lines. But if they don't, you get a bit of a mess. Wooden delivery abounds in Quinceañera, making many pivotal scenes fall flat. There are a few well rendered moments but not enough to make this film as great as it's been made out. It's seemingly meteoric rise within the independent ranks is a bit baffling, garnering such awards as the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and Audience Awards, and several others.

For those not in the know, Quinceañera is the Latin American equivalent to the Jewish bar mitzfah, but instead of hitting it at age 12 (for Jewish girls) or 13 (boys), the Quinceañera is given to only girls at age fifteen. Marking the transition from child to womanhood, many girls in the Echo Park area look forward to their womanhood. But Magdalena isn't waiting. Finding herself with child before her Quinceañera celebration, she leaves her hostile parents' home and finds solace in her elderly Uncle Tio's (Gonzales) home. Living with Tio already is Magdalena's gang-running and conflicted cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia). Shunned by most of his family, Tio has taken him in and nurtures him.

Carlos is dealing with sexual issues, too, finding partnership and love in the arms of a gay couple who own the complex where Tio and he (and now Magdalena) live.

The walls rapidly come tumbling down as conflicts between the upstairs owners of Tio's home come smashing in when they send an eviction notice to Tio after breaking up with Carlos and wanting him far away. Tio's ailing spirit can't stand the strain and this is where one of the only well-acted moments of the film shows itself.

Eventually it is discovered that Magdalena got pregnant but still has her hymen intact. A miracle? Or rare scientific event? That's up to the viewer to decide.

Regardless, Magdalena's Quinceañera closes in and whether or not she'll attend and with whom is the big question.

This is a fairly good indie film but certainly not up to others I've seen (i.e., EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED, etc). I commend all who took part in it as I think it IS a noteworthy achievement, just not an award winning one.
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Pushing the limits of mediocrity.
GraysonFilmGuy1 February 2006
I saw this film at Sundance with high hopes of a true brilliance in film-making. Winning both the Sundance Audience Award and the Dramatic Grand Jury Award, I figured this was a sure catch of the Festival. After viewing it, I easily concluded that this was one of the most average films I've ever seen. Although the performances of the Emily Rios and Jesse Garcia are excellent, the film lacks originality and creativity.

This was the last film of 12 that I saw at Sundance, some of them being truly superb in originality and stylized cinematography complimented by goose-bump delivering performances. After being barraged by truly moving works of cinema, Quinceañera became the most mediocre picture on the Sundance screen. This film was packed with safe choices in cinematography, plot twists and endings that were cute but predictable and dialogue recycled from every other coming of age, acceptance film.

This is a movie that I would enjoy seeing at a mainstream movie theater with some popcorn and my girlfriend. How it received such honor and recognition over a truly superior collection of films is beyond me.

An enjoyable flick, yes. The best at Sundance, not even close.
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The Rite of Passage
nycritic2 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A family threatening to come apart at the seams due to the unplanned pregnancy of their symbolically named daughter Magdalena (Emily Rios) who has dreams of having her quinceanera party (a cultural event for Latina girls entering their fifteenth year of age, the equivalent of their débutante party), a surrogate family being formed as Magdalena, seeing her boyfriend Hernan deny his paternity and not wanting to fight with her father who cannot understand her debate that she has not had sex with a man yet, moves in with her Tio Tomas (Carlos Gonzalez) and her gay cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia). Parallel to this, the gentrification of their very own town -- Echo Park -- as gay men and more "desirable folk" move into the neighborhood. Among the gay men are a couple -- James (Jason L. Wood) and Gary (David Ross) -- who take to Carlos' 'cholo' physique even though he is anything but a gangster.

This the microcosm of QUINCEANERA, a surprise of a movie that brings forth a nuanced painting of a neighborhood and the reality that the inevitable rise in real estate brings while also building upon the idea of what a family truly is when outcasts come together. Its story is fragmented, dividing equal time to each of its main players, making Magdalena not a saint but a troubled girl trying to wrestle with her predicament, as well as making Carlos not a thug but one tough guy all the same while their Tio Tomas suffers nobly. A slice of life, it examines a culture that is rarely seen in movies, and that it has a keen eye for the little things that makes up the Hispanic culture is a feat in itself. I loved its little moments, that Carlos tryst with Gary has no solution -- because Gary is in a committed affair with James -- and that the gay men are shown as being a little callous, fixated on Carlos' exotic looks and even making him the butt of a crude joke over dinner. Warm with just a tiny touch of magic realism in how it resolved Magdalena's pregnancy, QUINCEANERA is a true find in the heap of urban stories.
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Surely One of the Finest Films of the Year
gradyharp14 January 2007
'Quinceañera' is a little miracle of a film. Written and directed by the sensitive team of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland ('The Fluffer', 'Grief') this independent film garnered many awards at the Sundance Festival and rightly so. For the first time a film about the Latino community in Los Angeles is presented without the usual onerous stereotypes but instead with all the idiosyncrasies of a culture within a culture that respects place, time, extended family, the individual choices that demand courage, and the wondrously warm festivities and traditions that make this part of Los Angeles milieu so unique and special.

Made on a budget of around $250,000. with the money being raised by producers who solely believed in an idea (no script was ready at the time of solicitation of support) presented Glatzer and Westmoreland who lived in the Echo Park area of downtown LA and had witnessed the traditional coming of age at 15 with the special presentation to society of girls becoming women called Quinceañera: they felt a story was there. Gathering a cast of both known and unknown actors who felt as committed to the concept as the production team, Glatzer and Westmoreland wrote the script as the film progressed, using extemporaneous lines from the cast on set as part of the atmosphere. The end product is a loving, unpretentious, realistic story rendered without the slightest trace of treacle or overindulgence in histrionics or false sentimentality.

Magdalena (a strong Emily Rios) is 14, awaiting her quinceañera, knowing that her family cannot afford the extravagance of the event in which she has just been a participant. Her father is a preacher and will not consider spending money for a new dress or a limo for her party and while her mother supports Magdalena's wants, she succumbs to the realities of the finances of the family. Magdalena has a young boyfriend Herman (J.R. Cruz) and though they are careful with intimacy, Magdalena becomes pregnant without penetration. When her family discovers her pregnancy, no one will believe she is still in fact a virgin and she is castigated by her father (Jesus Castanos) and thrown from her home. Herman loves her but obeys his mother's wishes that he complete school and he leaves Echo Park, deserting Magdalena. Magdalena finds solace with her great granduncle Tio Tomas Alvarez (a brilliant Chalo González) who lives in back of a property in a home filled with love, memories, kindness, and tradition. He has also taken in the young pseudo-gansta Carlos (an impressively strong and hunky Jesse Garcia) who discovers he is gay when he comes out with the gay couple (David Ross and Jason L. Wood) who own the property in front of Tio's little place.

Gradually Magdalena and Carlos bond under the influence of their Tio Tomas, learning the important life lessons of family and self respect, healing from the injuries that are similar to the disappointments of Tio Tomas' past. It is the manner in which these three become a strong extended family, mutually supportive, that is the strength of the story, and when Tio Tomas suffers yet another disappointment in his life, he at age 81 dies quietly, leaving Magdalena and Carlos the richer for their time with him.

The supporting cast, drawn from professional actors, local theater and from the people of Echo Park, is uniformly strong and presents an unfettered sense of realism to the film. There are many exemplary moments: Magdalena and her father argue over her pregnancy in a bilingual fashion - the father screams in Spanish and Magdalena screams back in English, a finely integrated demonstration of the crossing of language and culture so well presented in the film; Carlos' eulogy at Tio Tomas' funeral is one of the more powerful monologues on film and is superbly delivered by the very talented Jesse Garcia; finally a look at the gay Spanish population so taboo in other films, again due to the fine acting of Garcia with Ross and Wood; and the preparations and executions of the actual quinceañeras are true to life. This is a film of love on the part of everyone involved and it is powerful in its simple realism. Highly recommended for everyone. Grady Harp
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With its sweetness and oddness, warmhearted effort doesn't quite jell
Chris Knipp10 September 2006
Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland are gay life partners who had separately and together made gay films, and then because they liked their Echo Park neighborhood so much, have now made this, a story about this Chicano area of Los Angeles -- but also about a white gay couple who own property there and exploit those locals. One of the puzzling elements in this awkward but generally warmhearted and appealing story is that the white gay characters, presumably surrogates of the filmmakers themselves and their friends, range from exploitive to downright despicable.

This isn't as vivid, artful, or coherent, and doesn't develop its characters or scenes in as much depth as Peter Sollett's colorful 2002 charmer about Lower East Side Dominican residents and a young couple's first love, "Raising Victor Vargas." It's not even as memorable or involving as Eric Eason's relatively crude but intense, hardscrabble "Manito" (also from 2002). "Quinceañera" features the cornball sweetness of an aging great uncle who takes in two family rejects. The old man is Tio Tomás (Chalo Gonzales, who debuted in Pekinpah's "Wild Bunch"). He radiates good nature, but despite details of a suicidal youth and a list of occupations, ending in selling 'champurrado' chocolate drinks from a pushcart, he hasn't much depth as a character. Tomás hosts Carlos (Jesse García), a tough youth driven from the family for being homosexual, and who one of the gay property owners, Tomás' landlords, begins having afternoon sex with on the sly.

Later Carlos is joined by Magdalena (Emily Rios) after she becomes pregnant before her quinceañera, or fifteenth-birthday celebration, though she has never had full-penetration relations with her boyfriend, Herman (J.R. Cruz). Her stolid storefront preacher father Ernesto (Jesus Castanos) is unforgiving toward both these youths -- his daughter Magdalena and her cousin Carlos. Eventually Herman's mother sends him off to pursue a promising academic career and tells Magdalena to stay away. Carlos' afternoon affair with the gay landlord ends equally cruelly when the older man's partner finds out, and the white gay couple decide to evict poor old Tomás (doubtless to get rid of him and his young charges, or perhaps just to exploit the real estate better) and this understandably devastates the old man, who's lived there for twenty-eight years. Magdelena tries to find another place for the three of them to live, but with their lack of income (Carlos has a dead-end job in a car wash) and given the local drift toward gentrification, that looks hopeless.

These situations are alternatively weepy and peculiar. A tattooed chulo like Carlos surely isn't a typical lover for a gay white yuppie, though the way the camera dwells on Jesse García's muscles and tattoos suggests the filmmakers think he's as "hot" as the gay landlord characters and their friends keep saying. And virgin births are a considerably greater rarity; though as Magdalena points out to her father, who forgives her upon learning that her hymen is unbroken, "there is a scientific explanation." We're not sure what that is, except that Herman did once explode on Magdalena's leg, and as we're reminded, sperm cells are designed for one purpose, to find their way inside a woman's vagina.

"Quinceañera" starts rather limply with the somewhat rhythmless coverage of another girl's fifteenth birthday celebration. The non-professional young people don't deliver their lines with much energy or conviction. But once we get to know Magdalena, Carlos, and Tio Tomás we begin to care about them. Unfortunately the finales and resolutions are as bland and pat as they are heartwarming. And it remains unclear whether the gay white men are meant to be satirized, or if their characters are just not very well written (or directed). The film, which was a big hit at Sundance and has had some other festival mileage, intermittently charms and puzzles us without ever quite coming together dramatically or artistically. There are at least three interesting stories here, but unfortunately the filmmakers seem to have liked the neighborhood so much they just couldn't decide what to focus on.
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Unusual and worth a look
MartinHafer6 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
While I was not nearly as taken with this film as Leonard Maltin (who lists it among his 50 films you may have missed at the beginning of his latest guide), it is a pretty decent little film. There are some wonderful performances (particularly the man who played Uncle Paco--Chalo González). However, with topics such as teen pregnancy and homosexuality, this is a film you might want to think twice about before letting your teen watch it. I'm sure many will also be offended by the subject matter, so think about this before renting it.

Magdalena's Quinceañera is soon approaching. This is sort of like a Mexican rite of passage--much like a Sweet 16 Party. However, she is mysteriously pregnant and her family's plans for the celebration are thrown into chaos. While this is a starting off point for the film, there are several interesting plot element running parallel to this--such as the life of her sweet uncle and her gay cousin, Carlos (who is ostracized by much of the family).

I read one review that was critical of the gay couple and the affair one of these gay men had with Carlos. They were offended because the couple was NOT monogamous and they were worried this film might feed into the negative stereotype that ALL gay men are promiscuous. While I could understand their concern, this plot element in the film certainly was unique and was worth exploring. And, it's not good to ALWAYS show all gay people as noble--a stereotype which has been promoted heavily in recent years and which is also very unreal. Why can't they just be good or bad or a bit of both like any other person?

What I found particularly interesting about Carlos was that although in some ways he was a bit of a thug, he was also very vulnerable and was amazingly self-controlled when he had every reason to want to kill these gay men. Despite this, he was able to let go--and provided some balance (i.e., not all gay men in the film were bad--just this couple).

As for Tió Paco, he was a beautiful and charming character--you'll just have to see him and the rest of the family to understand. Magdalena, actually, was the weakest point (despite her Quinceañera being the subject of the film), as her character seemed a bit one dimensional and her predicament amazingly bizarre and tough to believe.

Once again, this is a very adult film though it seems to be marketed, somewhat, towards teens. If you do let your teen watch it, watch it with them and discuss the film--this could be a nice chance to discuss the many topics this film raises during its 90 minutes. It's a decent film with some nice performances as well as a nice opportunity to see what this celebration is. But, it also is a bit of a disappointment--it just didn't seem as special or magical as Maltin led me to believe. It was good, but not that good.
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The Gentrification of Echo Park and mas
c-mac-22 September 2006
I have been fascinated with Echo Park since I was a teenager. I am from Texas, but my father's college buddy moved out to L.A. to work in show business, and we stayed with him at his home in Echo Park a couple times. I had no comprehension that my dad's friend living in Echo Park was part of a gentrification process (I didn't even know what gentrification meant). About ten years ago, the movie Mi Vida Loca came out, focusing on Echo Park gangsters; more recently, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas allowed me to drive around Echo Park and participate in gang warfare. This movie allowed me to vicariously experience life in Echo Park in a way that the aforementioned movies, video games, and even visits to the neighborhood could not. Instead of being cloistered in my father's friend's home, I was able to visit the homes of the Mexican-American families that populate the neighborhood. Instead of seeing the streets of Echo Park through the barrel of a gun in Grand Theft Auto, I saw the streets through the eyes of the female protagonist and her boyfriend as they made small talk walking home from school. Getting to step into this world was a pleasure in itself, but there were many other aspects of the film that I appreciated.

The characters didn't fit into stereotypes, but, at the same time, they weren't over-the-top. Three particular characters, a great-great Tio, his niece, and his nephew, due to unique circumstances, form an unorthodox family unit. The experiences they share are both sweet and painful. One has the feeling, when watching them together, that they have something that very few people have, even though their material circumstances are far from ideal. Overall, the movie explores the expansive and challenging realms of ethnicity, sexuality, religion, family, and social class, in a realistic, moving, and often-times humorous way, making Quinceañera a must-see film.
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