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Home / Articles / · Archive / Film & TV /  Rites of Passive
Film & TV

Rites of Passive

Quinceañera’s pleasant story just doesn’t deliver the passion.

By MaryAnn Johanson
Posted // June 11,2007 -

It’s such a warm and pleasant and human and humanist little film that it almost seems a tad rude to suggest that Quinceañera isn’t all it needs to be in order to be worthy of wholehearted praise and recommendation. The pieces are all in place, perhaps, but the glue connecting them is a bit thin. We can see the shape of the puzzle, but some bits just don’t fit neatly together. Or maybe the finished product got so over-shellacked out of fear of not being neat and tidy and finished off that the final result got muddy and dimmed. It’s often hard to determine just why a sorta-OK, not-so-bad, yeah-I-kinda-liked-it film doesn’t make you want to shout from the rooftops that Everyone! Must! See! This! Which is what I’d like to do for Quinceañera'but I just can’t.

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I want to love this movie. It is, after all, about a teenage girl who’s that honest-to-god cinematic rarity: a real flesh-and-blood person. There’s nothing stereotypical or cartoonish about 14-year-old Magdalena (Emily Rios). Sure, she loves her iPod and spends after-school afternoons shopping with her girlfriends, but she’s a good kid.

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And when she accidentally gets pregnant, well, it’s not that she’s a slut or a bad girl. She has one boyfriend, who seems like a really nice boy himself. They didn’t even, you know, technically Go All The Way, but instead got caught in a statistical anomaly regarding the fierce tenacity of human sperm; if there’s one group of people to whom I might wholeheartedly recommend Quinceañera, it would be teenaged girls. There’s no graphic'or even not-graphic'sex for parents to worry about, but it does impart a few hard-earned lessons about being careful whom you get naked with, and those lessons don’t have to do with the typical movie bugaboos of pregnancy or disease but the far greater dangers to our hearts and emotions. That kind of sex-ed is as rare onscreen as it is in our schools.

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So that’s a big plus for this festival favorite'it pulled off a rare sweep of both the Dramatic Grand Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance'from filmmakers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, who made the gay indie comedy The Fluffer in 2001. It’s full of real folks, and not just Magdalena. When her preacher dad gets the news about her being in the family way, he kicks her out of the house. She goes to live with her uncle Tomas (Chalo González)'who is a lovely figure of unconditional love and tolerance and warmth and cookies and all those good things'and her cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia), who is not bachelor Tomas’s son but yet another family reject he has taken in. Carlos is gay, and out of the closet'and, since he’s also a tough street kid, he’s about as far from gay stereotypes as movies get. The three of them create a really nice little family together, dealing with one another’s oddities, sniping at each other'especially the two youngest'as people do, but remaining supportive.

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But “nice” really is the word that pops to mind with alarming frequency as the best descriptor of Quinceañera: It’s too nice. It doesn’t take enough risks, even as it addresses issues like neighborhood gentrification and nontraditional relationships. It doesn’t push enough boundaries. It refuses to be aggressive, and I don’t mean “mean and angry” aggression, but rather that there’s a passion lacking in a story about learning about passion of all kinds'not just sexual passion, but in simply being a feeling person. This is after all, a film about rites of passage'not just first sex and first pregnancy, but also the elaborate “quinceañera” 15th-birthday ceremony for which Magdalena is supposed to be preparing, a Mexican tradition that’s something like a combination Sweet 16 and Christian confirmation, and it comes with as much pomp and circumstance and ridiculous financial expenditures as a wedding. Yet for all the pomp, there is nothing that feels momentous or monumental.

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It’s all very pleasant and it won’t ruffle any feathers'which, in a way, is too bad. This is a movie that should make someone angry, or move someone to tears, or make a viewer feel something more than, “Gee, wasn’t that ? nice.”

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QUINCEAÑERA
nn**.5
nnEmily Rios
nnJesse Garcia
nnChalo González
nnRated R

 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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