Fourteen-year-old Magdalena (newcomer Emily Rios) is a typical teenager: hanging out with her friends, having her first romance with a boy, doing her homework, and dreaming about her future. She wants nothing more in life than to ride in a Hummer Limo to her Quiñceanera - a traditional party celebrating a girl's fifteenth birthday. A Quiñceanera is a milestone in a young girl's life, a celebration of the successful transition from childhood to womanhood, and a ritual that ties young girls to their spirituality, to remind them to follow God and stay pure. At the film's outset, Magdalena is at her cousin Eileen's Quinceanera. Eileen's parents have a lot more money than Magdalena's, and Eileen's Quiñceanera is a fancy one. Everyone is having a great time, until Eileen's brother Carlos (Jesse Garcia) shows up and is punched in the face and kicked out by his father.
Magdalena's mother later tells her that her sister, Eileen's mother, has offered to let Magdalena use her cousin's ball dress for her own upcoming Quiñceanera. Magdalena is disappointed not to be getting a new dress, but she asks her mother if she can ride to her party in a Hummer limo instead. Magdalena's mother tells her that her father will not agree to it; he is a preacher and wants to keep the focus of his daughter's Quiñceneara on the spiritual aspect of the occasion. Magdalena begs her mother to ask her father anyhow, and her mother, who wants her daughter's day to be a special occasion, agrees to approach him about it.
Magdalena and her boyfriend Herman have been "messing around" but haven't consummated their relationship, so Magdalena is shocked to discover she is pregnant. When her conservative preacher father learns about the pregnancy, he reacts by kicking her out of the house. Magdalena goes to live with her great-uncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez) and cousin Carlos, who was kicked out of his house when his father discovered he had been surfing gay porn sites.
Uncle Tomas is a gentle, compassionate balm to the moralistic sting delivered upon Magdalena and Carlos by their families. He accepts them as they are without judging them, loves them unconditionally, and prays for them in his garden chapel. Uncle Tomas' Echo Park neighborhood is buzzing with the rise in real estate prices in the area, and it isn't long before a couple of rich white guys buy the house in front of Uncle Tomas' home, in a deal that includes the house Uncle Tomas has lived in for 28 years. The new landlords, Gary and Simon, immediately peg Carlos as gay and target him for some sexual play. They invite Carlos to a party, where another Hispanic guest tells Carlos slyly that "they love their Latino boys". The objectification of ethnic men by white gay men is again driven home in a later dinner scene, when Simon and his friends brag about their sex play with young Latinos, while Gary sits on in discomfort, unable to say anything.
Gary, who is the financially dependent partner in the relationship, starts an affair with Carlos on the side. When Simon finds out, Gary cuts Carlos loose, and then Uncle Tomas is served an eviction notice. Uncle Tomas is broken-hearted about being forced out of his home, and Magdalena, who has been dumped by Herman, whose mother sent him away to keep him away from her, has to pound the pavement looking for another place for her makeshift family to live. Carlos offers to be a father to Magdalena's baby, and together Magdalena, Carlos and Tomas cling to each other for comfort and survival in a world where everything seems to have turned against them.
Quinceanera is one of my favorite movies so far at Sundance. The film is about race, sexuality, the class divide, religious tolerance, and the gentrification of ethnic neighborhoods, but like Eve and the Firehorse, the film handles its serious subjects with grace, humor and good storytelling. Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland filmed most of the movie in and around their own home in Echo Park, with their friends and neighbors (who, Westmoreland noted during the Q&A, "let camera crews troop through their homes and are still, miraculously, speaking to us"). The film provides a honest look at the Mexican-American beauty, showing the audience a crossslice across their neighborhood: Magdalena's mother, who married a more traditional Mexican preacher and who has little money; her sister, who married a wealthy man and values upgrading to a bigger house every five years over spiritual pursuits, Tomas, who at 83 has moved past judging anyone for anything, and loves everyone, and the influx of white neighbors changing the face of a Latino community.
Quinceanera is a charming film, and Rios, Garcia and Gonzalez give heartfelt, emotional performances. The film was much more moving than I expected it to be, based on just the catalogue description, and it was refreshing to see a film about the Latino community that didn't depict the characters in stereotypical ways. No one was dealing drugs, or being saved from joining a gang, or carrying a gun; there . I saw the film in a packed house, and the audience responded very well to the film - in fact, when the directors brought the actors up on stage, the audience gave Gonzalez a standing ovation. Quinceanera is the kind of film that Sundance is all about - an independent film made with a cast full of unknown, actors giving natural and authentic performances. Buzz on the street is very hot around this film, and it's the type of film that could play well, especially in art house theaters. I've heard more than one industry person saying that Quinceanera is likely to be bought, and although directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland wouldn't confirm that a deal is in the works, they didn't deny that it seems a good possibility, either. Look for our interview with Glatzer and Westmoreland to be up by tomorrow.Others on Quinceanera: James Greenberg of The Hollywood Reporter calls it "Life-affirming without being saccharine and enormously entertaining"; Variety's David Rooney is also impressed by the film, which he describes as a "fresh, spirited drama, charming and unpretentious."