The titular ceremony in Wash Westmoreland
and Richard Glatzer
's Quinceañera resembles a sort of teenage wedding. In actuality, it's a Catholic version of a Sweet Sixteen to symbolize a Mexican girl's acceptance of womanhood. It's a killer party: The 15-year-old girl dances with her father and her male relatives and then gets to spend the rest of the night with her girlfriends and her boyfriend while her family gets tanked and talks about their nostalgic feelings of when they accepted maturity and adulthood.
Magdalena (Emily Rios
) is coming back from her best friend's Quinceañera when she starts talking to her mother about getting a stretch hummer limo for her celebration. This is the least of her worries. She's pregnant with the child of Herman (J.R. Cruz
), even though they are both still virgins. The realization of this turns her father against her and her friends into gossip manufacturers. She escapes to her great uncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez
), who owns a small apartment in Echo Park, where he lives with his grand-nephew Carlos (Jesse Garcia
), a homosexual teen who was abandoned by his parents. Article continues below
The key problem with the film comes with moments of unbearable, extreme sentimentality. When Carlos offers a eulogy at a funeral (the closest the film ever gets to a climax), the words are squeamishly melodramatic and it becomes a moment of overt tear-jerkery. Although Quinceañera is a great genre exercise, it never breaks out of the "ragtag family" formula to really engage the viewer. This said, the film can only be categorized as "nice," nothing more, nothing less.
What makes this exercise so watchable is the way that Westmoreland and Glatzer handle the story and the way that the actors take to the material so naturally. Where the stress would usually be put on the rift between Magdalena and her parents, Westmoreland and Glatzer put more of a stress on the relationship between Magdalena and Carlos as the makeshift parents of the unborn child. Although the scene with Herman's mother comes too easy, the relationship between Herman and Magdalena seems very realistic and understandable. Rios has major talent and handles Magdalena with a deft mix of grit and smarts, and Garcia matches her in a strikingly natural portrait of modern homosexuality. Then there's Chalo Gonzalez, whose Uncle Tomas is the gentle heart of the film. Gonzalez, who starred in The Wild Bunch back in the day, brings a deep resolve of understanding to his role; although he isn't give nearly enough screen time. Watching him cry in his garden one last time gives the film a strong punch of personal history. Though not quite the celebration its title implies, Quinceañera spreads its joy with warmth and dignity.