PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Quinceañera (2005)

Kate Williams

Much like a well-meaning but bewildered child stuck in the awkward years between childhood and adolescence, Quinceañera is too unsure of its self to be assertive and, thus, lacks an identity (good or bad).


Display Artist: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Emily Rios, Jesse Garcia, Chalo Gonzalez, J.R. Cruz, Araceli Guzmán-Rico, Jesus Castaños-Chima and David W. Ross
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Distributor: Sony
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 2005
US DVD Release Date: 2007-01-09

In an independent movie’s never-ending quest for recognition, a film festival is often the first and most popular platform for support. For most, a film’s accepted entry in such a competition is the only measure of success it will find but, for a select few, critical laurels and jury awards soon follow. Unfortunately, most winners soon learn that festival accolades rarely translate into widespread consumer enthusiasm. Quinceañera, the 2006 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award Winner, met the fate of most competition winners by following festival success with moderate box office returns. This outcome, though, may have less to do with a 'Sundance curse' than with specific failings of the film itself.

Set in the rapidly gentrifying Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park, Quinceañera chronicles a tumultuous period of one extended Mexican-American family as they and the world around them are forced to adjust to life’s unavoidable changes. The film opens with 14-year-old Magdalena (Emily Rios) attending the lavish quinceañera -- the traditional, and increasingly elaborate, Mexican ceremony that celebrates a girl’s 15th birthday and marks her symbolic passage into womanhood -- of her cousin Eileen (Alicia Sixtos). No expense seems to have been spared for this party and all the gaudy teenage trappings of excess are on display, from the stretched Hummer limousine with the stripper pole to the fumbling bump-n-grind dance routines of newly minted teenagers.

Magdalena, clearly impressed and tacitly envious of her cousin’s celebration, is eagerly anticipating and planning her own upcoming quinceañera. Her party, however, will be less extravagant as her preacher father (Jesus Castanos-Chima) has insisted on a more humble and budget-friendly bash to celebrate her 15th birthday. To add insult to injury Magdalena will even be forced to wear her cousin’s hand-me-down dress.

Magdalena’s problems soon grow far more serious as she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant by her boyfriend Herman (J.R. Cruz). Given that she is still (technically) a virgin, Magdalena is especially shocked and dismayed by this news. (It seems that in one of their heavy make out sessions Herman’s sperm leaked onto the top of Magdalena’s thigh, furiously swam upstream, and impregnated her. Sounds ridiculous but it is medically possible.)

Not believing the 'virgin birth' explanation, Magdalena’s father kicks her out of the house and she is forced to move in with her great uncle, Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez). Tomas, a truly humble and benevolent man, has also taken in and given a home to Magdalena’s wayward cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia). We learn that Carlos, an unmotivated amateur thug, has been banished by his family not for his petty thievery but for being gay. Less bothered by his sexuality than by his class status, Carlos is immediately attracted to the (obnoxious) yuppie gay couple who have recently moved into a house on the same property as his great uncle, and quickly begins a three-way relationship with the men.

Quietly burdened by their outsider status within their larger family structure Magdalena, Carlos, and Tomas quickly form their own loving and trustful family unit. But however comforting and reassuring their new home environment may be, the world and its inevitable changes are soon laid bare on their front steps: Carlos’ relationship with his neighbors grows complicated; Magdalena’s boyfriend is forced to move away by his concerned mother; and Tomas receives a 30-day eviction notice (courtesy of the gentrifying gay couple) to leave his beloved home.

After a journey of pain, love, despair, and hope, the film ends with the long-awaited, and now bittersweet celebration, of Magdalena’s quinceañera. Intended to be heart warming and uplifting, the main plot lines concerning Magdalena and Carlos are resolved with a banal ambiguity that is both simplistic and emotionally unfulfilling. The characters’ passage from self-indulgent juvenility to knowing maturity (clearly illustrated by the two contrasting quinceañera ceremonies as the film’s bookends) remains too structured to feel earned and, thus, satisfying.

This well-packaged DVD (replete with filmmaker and cast commentary, a behind-the-scenes documentary, a red-carpet featurette, and an extended deleted scene) does little to mask the overriding inadequacies of the film itself. With varying themes of love, death, acceptance, (cultural and personal) intolerance, social gentrification, and racism Quinceañera is awash in important and infinitely interesting material. Unfortunately, Glatzer and Westmoreland, as both co-writers and co-directors, consistently stumble over the scripting and direction of the interweaving storylines and thematic elements. Their awkward and overly instructive visual style betrays the inherent appeal of Quinceañera and reduces the film to an uninspired and reductive melodrama.

Perhaps, the biggest problem with Quinceañera is not that it is an overtly bad film (because it is not), but that it fails to make an impression either way. It fits comfortably, if rather dully, within the independent film tradition of an unassuming multi-cultural coming-of-age story. Strong performances by the three main leads (Rios, Garcia, and Gonzalez) can do little to fix the central fault of a poorly written script that is overloaded with sentimentality. Much like a well-meaning but bewildered child stuck in the awkward years between childhood and adolescence, Quinceañera is too unsure of its self to be assertive and, thus, lacks an identity (good or bad).


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.