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Fourteen-year-old Magdalena (Emily Rios) can’t wait for her fifteenth birthday. According to Mexican tradition, a girl’s fifteenth birthday is the day she becomes a woman—and it’s celebrated with a huge party, called a Quinceanera. It seems that Magdalena’s only concern as the big day approaches is convincing her father, a strict yet well-respected minister, to rent her a Hummer limo—just like the one her cousin had—for the day. But then Magdalena discovers that she’s pregnant—and though she insists that it’s not possible, her parents refuse to believe her.

Magdalena leaves home and moves in with her great uncle, Tomás (Chalo González), who lives in a small rented house with a beautiful garden that he’s tended for years. Tomás has a habit of taking in the family’s untouchables without passing judgment on them. Not only does he welcome Magdalena, but he’s also taken in Magdalena’s cousin, Carlos, a tough kid who’s rumored to be gay. And as Magdalena struggles with her relationship with her boyfriend and tries to figure out her own future, Carlos finds himself more and more in the company of their new landlords—a gay couple who have taken a special interest in him.

Quinceanera won the 2006 Sundance Grand Jury Prize for drama. And while it doesn’t offer an entirely original or life-changing story, it’s not hard to see what the jury saw in it. Quinceanera gives an honest and realistic look at family life in Los Angeles’s Echo Park neighborhood. It portrays the highs and lows, the struggles and the celebrations through a simple and straightforward story that offers plenty of heart and a few touching moments. The cast works well together, and while there’s a little too much teenage-girl chatter for my taste, the young actors pull off an impressive performance—as does González, who gives the film its warmth.

At the same time, though, Quinceanera isn’t the most dynamic of films. There isn’t much action to the story—which, in this case, is both a blessing and a curse. While it makes the movie honest and realistic, it also tends to make things move a little slowly—and feel a bit heavy—at times. Though it’s an enjoyable—and even moving—film that’s well done, I think I’d still give Real Women Have Curves a slightly higher recommendation, for having all the heart while still keeping things light.

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