Eye For Film >> Movies >> Echo Park, L.A. (2006) Film Review
In the genuine spirit of rites-of-passage, Echo Park, L.A. covers the bases from teenage angst to burgeoning responsibility, which includes homosexual experimentation, underage pregnancy, parental rejection, death, drugs and redemption. Add to this the ceremony of Quinceanera that celebrates the coming of womanhood for girls of 15 in the Latin American community.
It is not so much a clash of cultures, as the young are naturally bilingual and slip easily into Californian mores, but rather a generational split, which appears more pronounced than amongst the sophisticats of The OC.
Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's film cannot be compared with Hollywood teen-coms, because the pride, respect and traditions of the families matter. These are Mexican kids, growing up in America, with aunts and uncles and cousins coming out of their ears. They can't breathe without a grown up giving advice, or taking control of their lives.
Carlos (Jesse Garcia) rejects it all. When he comes to his sister's Quinceanera, he is beaten up and thrown out. He walks the streets like a rebel punk, with fury in his face. And yet he's not a gang member. He stays with his great uncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez), who has a heart of gold and tends to care for the families' rejects, another of whom is Magdalena (Emily Rios), Carlos's cousin, still 14, who became pregnant when it should not have been possible. A virgin mother? No, no… let's not even consider the implications.
Echo Park, once a ghetto for Latinos, is becoming fashionable amongst artists and homosexuals. Tomas's new landlords are Gary (David W Ross) and James (Jason L Wood), who succeed in seducing Carlos. Magdalena quips, "You're a liar, thief, pothead and a gay!" Carlos shrugs. He doesn't know what he is, not then, but having her there helps. He can keep an eye on her welfare, as her boyfriend's mother steps in when she hears about the pregnancy and puts an end to that relationship.
The film explores Magdalena's character, from selfish'n'sulky to positive'n'pragmatic. Rios, in her debut film role, conveys Magdalena's quixotic moods with extraordinary conviction and Garcia, although more experienced as an actor, is careful not to dominate, as Carlos is the rebel without a cause and, as such, could have stolen her limelight.
The writer/directors are clever in the way they portray the community, as its influence affects every aspect of the story. What is less successful is the gay element, which is seen either as subversive, or the look of things to come. It feels like a robe, tossed casually over the body of the plot, offering a fashionable alternative to naked truth.Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2006