Susan and I watched “Quinceañeara” over the weekend. The tiny indie film that garnered critical acclaim and some good buzz after it won awards at Sundance is centered in Echo Park, and I’d very much been looking forward to it mainly for the reason that I’d heard our neighboring hood to the east was so prominently featured. And indeed a lot of the local landmarks and landscapes between Silver Lake’s Sunset Junction to Elysian Park get screen time and so from that aspect the film does not disappoint.

But other aspects of it do disappoint — not so much the overarching teenage-girl-comes-of-age story so much as how it examines the underlying impact of gentrification. But I think my main problem with the movie isn’t its plots or subplots, but that they were written and directed by two gay white guys — in essence what I’m being shown is a Latino culture filtered and interpreted through their gentrified prism.

Not they don’t achieve a level of authenticity, they do (I wants me some champurrado now, that’s for sure). But the truth the film finds is undercut by some pretty trite and contrivial plotting and characterization. The father of Magdalena (of course that’s her name), the girl for whom the picture is centered, is a preacher and therefore monochromatically strict, domineering and unbendingly faithful, which of course provides the easy setup for how effortlessly he’s able to condemn his daughter when he finds out she is pregnant and how easily he accepts her running away. And granted, how Maggie gets so immaculately conceived statistically could happen, but as a plot device it’s pretty weak, too. Then there’s the initially stand-up boyfriend who’s ready to do the right thing and stand by his lady only to suddenly disappear two-thirds of the way through, with his about-face barely explained. And don’t get me started on Magdalena’s misunderstood street-tough cousin with 213 inked across the back of his neck who hops into a homosexual menage a trois at the first opportunity.

But by far the biggest kicker is that whether coincidental or biographical there just so happens to be two gay white guys who drive the undertow current of the film. They’ve bought an Echo Park home, renovated it, and along the way they seduce the above-mentioned cousin who happens to live in the back house on the property with his great-great uncle (who also happens to be the person Magdalena runs to and who gives her shelter and support). Then when that lust triangle inevitably breaks down of course they serve (illegal) eviction papers on the lovable old champurrado street vender who’s lived there from almost 30 years, with catastophic results that are then spun into a forced happy ending of redemption and reconnection replete with a moving eulogy from the person least likely to ever give a moving eulogy. Ever.

I guess I just find it ironic and ill-fitting that such a pertinent and timely tale of a Latino family struggling to maintain its culture and tradition while both their bond and their neighborhood disintegrates had to be told by the very invaders the film should be disdaining, but doesn’t really.

Published by


Will Campbell arrived in town via the maternity ward at Good Sam Hospital way back in OneNineSixFour and has never stopped calling Los Angeles home. Presently he lives in Silver Lake with his wife Susan, their cat Rocky, dogs Terra and Hazel, and a red-eared slider turtle named Mater. Blogging since 2001, Will's web endeavors extend back to 1995 with, a comprehensive theater site that was well received but ever-short on capital (or a business model). The pinnacle of his online success (which speaks volumes) arrived in 1997, when much to his surprise, a hobby site he'd built called VisuaL.A. was named "best website" in Los Angeles magazine's annual "Best of L.A." issue. He enjoys experiencing (and writing about) pretty much anything creative, explorational and/or adventurous, loves his ebike, is a better tennis player than he is horr golfer, and a lover of all creatures great and small -- emphasis on "all."