Monday, May 29, 2017

Lowriders [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB () (3 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (R. Abele) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review

Lowriders [2016] (directed by Ricardo de Montreuil, screenplay by Cheo Hodari Coker, Elgin James, Joshua Beirne-Golden, Justin Tipping), the inaugural feature of the production company Telemundo Films, is a well written / well acted / excellently cast, gritty if also then _somewhat cliched_ urban (Mexican American) family drama that will remind Viewers of the Rocky [1976-2012] films and cop-shows like Hill Street Blues [1981-1987] / NYPD Blue [1993-2005].  

Yet A KEY (and _fascinating_) DIFFERENCE between these films / television series and the current film is that while the Rocky films (excellent, yet _also_ thoroughly cliched , as they were) focused on individual achievement / overcoming-of-obstacles and perhaps on _friendships_ between the various characters in the story, and the cop-shows suggested above perhaps portrayed "The Force" or "The Unit" as de facto "Family" for the various characters, THE CURRENT FILM REALLY IS ABOUT THE STRUGGLES OF "AN ACTUAL" MEXICAN AMERICAN FAMILY living in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East L.A.

Another interesting difference between this film and others that would tread on similar territory -- one could think here of Boyz in the Hood [1991], or more recently Straight Outta Compton [2015],  -- is that while taking the perspective "of civilians" (none of the members of this family were Police Officers, though both of the teenage / young adult sons found themselves at various times in trouble with the law), the POLICE HERE WERE _NOT_ PORTRAYED BADLY (OR EVEN PREDOMINANTLY WHITE) IN THE FILM.  Instead, the Police were seen as simply _doing their job_.  Indeed, the strong father, "Pops" (played wonderfully / AND QUITE REALISTICALLY by Demián Bichir), with his own struggles -- alcohol, tragic loss of his first wife -- clearly wanted to raise both his boys right.  And _clearly_ didn't want his kids ending-up in jail.

Indeed, there is A MAGNIFICENT (and UTTERLY REALISTIC) SCENE still fairly early in the film when the story's central protagonist / narrator Danny (played by Gabriel Chavarria), a young "tagger" (well "street" BUT LETS BE HONEST largely _graffiti_ "artist") gets, inevitably, caught by the Police along with his friend Jesús er Chuy (played again wonderfully by Tony Revolori) for, well, tagging, and ... it's Chuy who calls Danny's dad, "Pops" to bail them out.  THE SCENE (largely SILENT) with clearly angry but even more _disappointed_ "Pops" driving the two boys home ... from the two boys' night in jail ... IS SIMPLY PRICELESS.

And then there's "Pops'" second wife (Danny's step-mother) Gloria (played to SERIOUS BREAK-OUT ROLE HEIGHTS by Eva Longoria -- honestly she probably won't get nominated for this role, because it's still too small for that, but LONGORIA CERTAINLY PROVES THAT SHE PLAY TRULY SERIOUS ROLES, indeed HIT THEM OUT OF THE PARK).  It's Gloria who's holding the family and its individual members together.  She knows her husband.  She knows his sons.  And SHE'S got a daughter too from a first marriage -- who's preparing for a Quinceañera ;-).  The family's on a volcanic razor's edge -- it can collapse / go broke _in so many ways_.  And yet, IT'S GLORIA _keeping them from falling off the edge_ ALL OF THEM -- including "Pops'" harder older son Francisco / "Ghost" (played by Theo Rossi) who ALREADY DID do some HARD TIME in jail (for car theft -- for the parts).

It's one heck of a story!

Now wait, isn't this story supposed to be "about cars", "lowriders" to be exact?  YES, but they are both almost _beside the point_ AND the film's FUNDAMENTAL METAPHOR.

This is a film about a family / community that are living (under PRESSURE) REALLY CLOSE TO THE GROUND.  And yet it is ALSO a family / community that is both PROUD and HAS REASON TO BE PROUD.  Pops like a lot of other Hispanics is an auto-mechanic.  During the day, he fixes _other people's cars_.  BUT IN OFF HOURS HE WORKS ON / BUILDS HIS OWN -- BEAUTIFUL CARS, SOUPED-UP CARS, CARS THAT MAKE A STATEMENT.

And it's actually a similar matter with the Quinceñera that Gloria's preparing her daughter for: A _lot_ of Anglos simply don't understand Quinceañeras seeing them as an exorbitant "waste of money."  But Quinces are so much more than "just the dress / party" -- they are above all A FAMILY AFFAIR, then ALSO A RELIGIOUS AFFAIR (generally they are held in Church, and often enough, the mothers send _the whole court_ of teenagers, both the girls and boys, to Confession in the days before the Quince is celebrated), and FINALLY THEY ARE A SOURCE OF PRIDE saying to the world (and to themselves): "We may not be rich, but we will CELEBRATE THE RICHNESS THAT WE HAVE in _our young people_ in our families."  INDEED in MANY Mexican-American families Time is remembered in terms of the Big Gatherings / Fiestas that are held -- Baptisms, First Communions, Quinces, Weddings, and fainlly Big Anniversaries / Birthdays: "Remember Anita's Quince.  Grandma was still alive then, and so was Uncle Jorge..."

The cars here are the same.  They are extravagant, but they are beautiful, and they are remembered in the family / community for a long long time, and SOME ... even become LEGENDARY.

One awesome film!

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