Despite being billed as a modern reinvention of ’60s kitchen sink dramas, Quinceañera is neither austere nor angry. Rather, it’s a pleasantly sweet exploration of adolescence, family, sexuality and the shifting demographic of a neighbourhood.
Directors (and real-life partners) Richard Glatzer and Brit ex-pat Wash Westmoreland shot the film in their own backyard, having moved to the rapidly gentrifying Echo Park in 2001. They place us straight into the district’s throbbing heart through the familiar trials of a teenage girl, Magdalena. Obsessing with fitting into her dress and persuading her preacher dad to lay on a Hummer limo for her fast-approaching Quinceañera, it’s this ancient rite of passage that sets the context of age-old tradition jarred by change...
But what could have so easily traipsed through teen movie clichés takes a more thoughtful diversion when Magdalena, impregnated by boyfriend Herman (Ramiro Iniguez) despite insisting she’s still a virgin, is made a pariah. Taking refuge with great-great uncle Tomas, a big-hearted elder, an alternate family unit is forged. In the garden of their humble annexe, Tomas has cultivated a shrine of coloured bottles, religious icons and family portraits. A chapel of memory, it chimes, zen-like, of the past...
To offset his wistfulness, the filmmakers introduce, well, themselves; same-sex couple Simon (Dane Rosselli) and Gary (David Ross), who move into the adjoining house. Initial harmony is shaken, though, when Magdalena’s cousin Carlos’ three-way fun with the neighbours gets complicated. Latin tempers soar along with the rents and they find themselves seeking a new home, as well as mending family rifts before Magdalena’s big day.
Lavished with the Grand Jury and Audience awards at Sundance, many will be swept along by Quinceañera’s undoubted charm. However, lacking the core grit of the original kitchen sinkers, most will be happy to just make a fleeting visit to Echo Park.
It may lack emotional grind, but this is still an endearing song of people and place, played with sweetness and a big heart.