A movie that tackles teen pregnancy, teen homosexuality, homophobia, gentrification and a whole lot more sounds closer to a Lifetime television movie ( or something that would turn up late at night on Logo ) than something fresh and original, doesn't it? But that's exactly what Quinceañera is: an assured, beautifully observed piece that tackles a lot of familiar 'issues' while throwing light on some new ones—and it does it with the unforced, rich characters that defined 2001's The Fluffer, the first feature collaboration of co-writers, directors and real-life partners Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. That movie's title probably threw off ( or titillated ) much of its potential audience and Quinceañera ( which refers to the coming-of-age celebration for 15-year-old Mexican girls ) unfortunately might have the same effect—'too ethnic,' some might think. But don't let the title stop you from seeing this moving Latino-style kitchen sink drama. It's not just a great gay movie or a great straight movie. Quinceañera is a great movie, period. It's another example of one of those small miracles that happen from time to time in independent cinema ( such as last year's Loggerheads and Junebug ) .
The story focuses on 14-year-old Magdalena ( Emily Rios ) , a quiet Mexican-American teen who secretly covets the things at her Quinceañera that her wealthy cousin had, including the white stretch Hummer limo with the stripper pole and an evening dress of her own, not her cousin's castoff. But Magdalena's world is uprooted when she finds herself pregnant, though she swears to her horrified parents that she hasn't gone all the way with her boyfriend. Kicked out of the house, she moves in with her non-judgmental great-uncle Tomas ( Chalo González ) and her brooding cousin Carlos ( Jesse Garcia ) , who has also been kicked out of his house—for being gay. Tomas lives in a coach house owned by James and Gary in the predominantly Hispanic Echo Park section of Los Angeles. New owners James and Gary, a white, affluent gay couple, live in the much larger home that fronts the coach house and are part of the area's ongoing gentrification ( think Humboldt Park and West Town in Chicago ) . Carlos, a hot young cholo with his '213' and 'Travjeso' ( troublemaker ) tats inked on his stomach, is irresistible eye candy for the couple and soon the inevitable happens. 'They love their Latin boys,' a guest remarks after getting an eyeful of Carlos, who has accepted an invitation to one of their parties and stares sullenly at the gay men around him.
A clash of cultures can't be far behind. ( At one point Gary says to Carlos, 'You live in another world don't you?' to which Carlos challenges, 'No—you do.' ) En route, hearts will be broken; relationships mended or renewed; and life lessons learned—all without the benefit of the usual dramatic cough syrup that these ethnic culture studies often insist on. Yet the picture crackles with energy ( due in no small part to the irresistible soundtrack ) and never feels forced. Throughout the travails they experience ( and there are many ) , both Magdalena and Carlos are characters with honor and dignity. These two, who are against the world and are used to internalizing their pain, find an unexpected bond that is like a sweet reward for both themselves and the audience.
Glatzer and Westmoreland, who looked around their own Echo Park neighborhood for their story and locations ( with the home of Gary and James being the couple's real-life home, for example ) , have helmed a film that also favors an unadorned acting style to match their quietly powerful drama. And in Rios and Garcia, both non-professionals, they've found two great camera subjects who both hold the audience with their silences and deeply expressive eyes. González ( whose character may or may not be gay ) also has a beautifully paced monologue that is brought off with a minimum of acting effects. Although the situations are the stuff of melodrama at times, there's no off-putting scenery chewing and no attempt by the directors to manage your responses. The movie allows for several different points of view ( and bravely, for two gay writer-directors, it presents the motivations of the gay characters as less than 100-percent pure ) . And the Quinceañera ceremonies themselves—both sharply realized snapshots of a cultural ritual—are perfect, fascinating bookends for the absorbing film.
Now, we go from the sublime to the ridiculous—only this time the ridiculous is sexy and supremely silly. Another Gay Movie, a queer cross between American Pie and a male Little Darlings, is a fizzy, brainless waste of time that's the cinematic equivalent of one of those impossible-to-drink frozen summer concoctions they're always pushing at the bars this time of year. You don't really want to drink the Strawberry Twisty Frizz Whirly Freeez Tassle Von Frozen Frappe with 26 different kinds of fruity vodka but what the hell? You're out with your gal pals, looking to get laid or, at the very least, have a good time. Why not lay down the $12.50 for the two-ounce shot 'cause you wanna get liquored up quick and have some fun already?
That's the kind of picture Another Gay Movie is. The plot revolves around a quartet of four 'loser' high school friends determined to lose their anal virginity ( I kid you not ) before summer ends and their big dyke friend's latest orgy/party. These four take to their assignment like ducks to water and before you can say 'K-Y' they've all reached their goal. Crude and about as funny as the straight gross-out sex-obsessed teen comedies, Another Gay Movie is also just about two steps away from out-and-out gay porn. ( One can easily imagine Chi Chi LaRue shouting out 'Action!' )
But for a movie that I approached with such low expectations, I laughed a lot more than I anticipated at various scenes ( including a Carrie parody that is dead-on, down to the Pino Donaggio-inspired score ) and there's a lot of hunky eye candy to pass the time. Also, a bevy of gay guest stars like ( a sadly wasted ) Lypsinka, Graham Norton, and Scott Thompson as well as a perky theme song sung by what sounds like a technically altered Nancy Sinatra make this a good way to kick off an evening's entertainment.
Oh, and for you ( miniature ) size queens—there's a quick shot of full frontal Richard 'Survivor' Hatch to clear up that teeny, tiny mystery once and for all.