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Quinceanera has an understandably broad appeal in its keenly observant and unassuming exploration of a Mexican American family and the extending community. And that proved to be the case when it seized both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury prizes at Sundance, a feat unheard of in these times of divided opinions. It gladly wears its optimism and giddy exuberance on its sleeves when it introduces us to the innocent charms of its ingnue, Magdalena (Emily Rios) during a zestful celebration, a rite of passage for young women called a quinceanera. But will Magdalenas own quinceanera be as joyful?
When the threat of an extra mouth to feed comes looming over her familys celebratory mood, the shamefaced Magdalena finds herself exiled to her great-uncles rented apartment in a building owned by a duo of gay white yuppies eager to cash in on the burgeoning property market. She finds herself sharing a common but uneasy bond with Carlos (Jesse Garcia), another family member ousted because of his sexual preference.
The writer-directors in Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland do not condemn the conservatism of the immigrant Latino community. Their social commentary is primarily concerned with the ones that are forgotten, misplaced in the functioning societys own religious principles and way of life. Astutely crafting a smooth flow and a nicely paced narrative, it has an astonishing amount of detail and observations in its compact and decidedly simple story of outcasts in the countrys minority neighborhoods. Transcending its clichd scenarios, it manages to convey a sense of longing in the pariahs while they huddle together in a small apartment with problems that can only be sorted by them. Staying clear of odious stereotypes about gangland lifestyles and contrivances about inhabitants of the barrios, it finds an able and authentic footing in its environment that effuses a rare amount of sincerity. In its packed house of flawed but relatable characters, each of them is made real by distinctive and natural performances.
It sympathises with them, it agonises with them and it also offers these roommates something to live for. Never pitying them, theres an upbeat sense of self-preservation amidst changing social orders in familial ties and the ruthless financially driven gentrification of life-long neighbourhoods. Striking a nerve with a limpid view of the populations inner demons and better angels, it doesnt slyly attempt to condescend or amplify struggles of class alienation and economic disparities between the races. And it even seems coy in parallelising the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary with Magdalenas own self-justification of her guilt.
Not without its necessary evils, the openly gay directorial team almost seem like apologists for their race amidst their respect and affection for the Latino community and culture. This puts a slant on the gay white couple that finds their presence fueling tensions within the makeshift clan of misfits. Lascivious and predatory in their sexual practices, it comes across as a scathing scrutiny against the trend of accessorising young, attractive minorities. Despite the stronger than expected sexual dialogue, its inherently heartwarming and free of the pretensions that plague similarly themed films.