Los Angeles Times



Friday May 5, 2000

     "Luminarias" takes us into a world all too rarely seen on the big screen: that of upwardly mobile Los Angeles Latinas.
     Instead of barrio poverty, gangs and drugs, we're introduced to four women, longtime friends, whose favorite meeting place is the Monterey Park restaurant that gives the film its name. They are Evelina Fernandez's Andrea, a successful attorney; Marta Du Bois' Sofia, a titian-haired Westside therapist; Angela Moya's Lilly, an artist; and Dyana Ortelli's Irene, a clothing designer with her own shop. The film's title clearly also applies to these vibrant women, who light up the screen.
     If "Luminarias" sounds like a classic women's picture with a Spanish accent, that's about right. (It's been called a "Latina twist to 'Waiting to Exhale.' ") But because these women are Latinas, it offers a fresh perspective on women's universal concerns and grapples in particular with long-festering hostility toward Anglos that persists even as society is changing and becoming more inclusive.
     Adapted by Fernandez from her play and directed by her husband, Jose Luis Valenzuela, a UCLA drama professor in his feature directorial debut, "Luminarias" makes a graceful transition from stage to screen. Some moments are overly theatrical, but "Luminarias" is consistently entertaining and offers some sharp observations of the Latino experience.
     Andrea and her husband, Joe (Robert Beltran), live in a mansion, where they are celebrating their wedding anniversary when the film begins. In the course of the evening, Andrea and her pals catch Joe embracing a blond (Barbara Niven). We learn that Joe is a womanizer who may see his philandering as a macho birthright. Andrea throws him out, but this time when he returns, it's not to ask for forgiveness but to tell her that he wants a divorce.
     In time, Sofia sets up the stunned, depressed Andrea with a blind date, who turns out to be the attorney (Scott Bakula) representing a husband in a divorce case in which Andrea is representing the wife, her receptionist, Cindy (Seidy Lopez). Cindy is suing on grounds of spousal abuse.
     That Andrea and Bakula's Joseph have begun an affair already makes things doubly complicated--doubly because Andrea has deep-seated rage toward Anglos. The film is really about a successful, intelligent woman struggling with reverse racism, and her struggle is echoed in various ways. We witness Andrea's entire Latino world maneuver the often painful, sometimes funny, process of integration and acceptance of those who happen to be different.
     Lilly plunges into a romance with a handsome Korean American (Andrew C. Lim), only to find that his parents are shocked because she is a Mexican American.
     Sofia has practiced assimilation diligently but has come up empty-handed in the romance department. She's beginning to respond to the ardent pursuit of a Luminarias waiter (Sal Lopez, also the film's producer), wondering if she can bridge their socioeconomic gap.
     Irene, who serves mainly as the film's comic relief, is struggling with having given up sex for Lent--and with accepting that her brother (Geoffrey Rivas) not only is gay but also a transvestite.
     As a writer, Fernandez is on sure ground when she's confronting serious issues and strong emotions, but sometimes her comedy touches are too theatrical or sitcom for the big screen. This is especially true of Irene and her carryings-on. Much more effective is a sequence set at a backyard family barbecue, where Andrea introduces Joseph to her relatives; here Fernandez can mine the humor in the inherent self-consciousness of the occasion, especially when there are such pros as Cheech Marin, Lupe Ontiveros and Pepe Serna cast as members of Andrea's family.
     Andrea and Joseph's romance reflects the complexity of their situation, socially and professionally, and in its development only once does Fernandez strike a false note, when she has Joseph, presented as a decent, sensitive man, cast a slur upon receptionist Cindy.
     Valenzuela's direction has the occasional self-consciousness and unevenness of the first-timer, but on the whole, it keeps us absorbed. Performances are solid, starting with that of Fernandez herself.
     The film is intriguing on yet another level: It dares to suggest romance is not over for middle-aged women. What's more, noted Mexican cinematographer Alex Phillips Jr. gives the film a rich, high-contrast look that's not always flattering to the actresses but has an honesty to it.
     If "Luminarias" succeeds at the box office, it could open up the screen for more forthright depictions of contemporary Latino life.

Luminarias, 2000. R, for language and sexuality. A New Latin Pictures release of a Sleeping Giant production. Director Jose Luis Valenzuela. Producer Sal Lopez. Executive producers Valenzuela and Fernandez. Screenplay Fernandez; from her play. Cinematographer Alex Phillips Jr. Editors Terilyn Shropshire and Jeff Koontz. Art director Pattsi Valdez. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog. John Tormey as Louie. Sonny Valerio as Cliff Gorman. Frank Minucci as Big Angie. Richard Portnow as Handsome Frank. Tricia Vessey as Louise Vargo. Henry Silva as Ray Vargo. Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich. Albert Finney as Ed Masry. Aaron Eckhart as George. Marg Helgenberger as Donna Jensen. Cherry Jones as Pamela Duncan. Peter Coyote as Kurt Potter. Shane West as Ryan. Jodi Lyn O'Keefe as Ashley. Marla Sokoloff as Maggie. Richard Schiff as Gym coach. Aaron Paul as Floyd. Chris Klein as Kelley. Leelee Sobieski as Samantha. Josh Hartnett as Jasper. Michael Rooker as Jasper's father. Roshan Seth as Gustad Noble. Om Puri as Ghulam. Soni Razdan as Dilnavaz Noble. Naseeruddin Shah as Jimmy Bilimoria. Margherita Buy as Caterina. Silvio Orlando as Ernesto. Carolina Freschi as Teresa. Alessandro di Natale as Gabriele. Billy Crudup as Fielding Pierce. Jennifer Connelly as Sarah Williams. Janet McTeer as Caroline Pierce. Hal Holbrook as Isaac Green. Cameron Van Hoy as Stevie. Mischa Barton as Rocky. Burt Reynolds as Daniel Bender. Adam Farrar as Wheelchair Man. Nancho Novo as Max. Cayetana Guillen Cuervo as Monica. Ingrid Rubio as Yeye. Beatriz Santiago as Maria. Gustavo Salmeron as Alberto. Mohsen Ramezani as Mohammad. Hossein Mahjub as Hashem. Salime Feizi as Granny. Elham Sharim as Hanyeh. Farahnaz Safari as Bahareh. Aidan Gillen as Francis. Emmanuelle Seigner as Gloria. Susan Tyrrell as Sal. Mark Boone Jr. as Vic. Joshua Jackson as Luke McNamara. Paul Walker as Caleb Mandrake. Hill Harper as Will Beckford. Leslie Bibb as Chloe. Craig T. Nelson as Litten Mandrake. Jimmy Smits as Arturo Ortega. Maria Del Mar as Rita Ortega. Jon Seda as Sonny Ortega. Clifton Collins Jr. as Jimmy Ortega. Ernesto Hernandez as Johnny Ortega. Ron Perlman as Nick Everson. John Cusack as Rob. Iben Hjejle as Laura. Todd Louiso as Dick. Jack Black as Barru. Lisa Bonet as Marie De Salle. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Charlie. Voice Talent as . Kevin Kline as Tulio. Kenneth Branagh as Miguel. Rosie Perez as Chel. Armand Assante as Tzekel-Kan. Edward James Olmos as The Chief. Scott Caan as Scotty. Robert Downey Jr. as Terry. Stacy Edwards as Sheila. Gaby Hoffman as Raven. Jeanie Dryden as Patsy. Linal Haft as Vic. Russell Dykstra as Bo. Genevieve Lemon as Josie. Sacha Horler as Nadia. Alicia Talbot as Vera. Rachel Griffiths as Pamela Drury. David Roberts as Robert Dickson. Sandy Winton as Ben. Yael Stone as Stacey. Floriane Daniel as Rebecca. Heino Ferch as Marco. Ulrich Matthes as Rene. Marie-Lou Sellem as Laura. Josef Bierbichler as Theo. Sandrine Bonnaire as Marie. Oleg Menchikov as Alexei. Catherine Deneuve as Gabrielle. Sergei Bodrov Jr. as Sacha. David Arquette as Gordie. Scott Caan as Sean. Oliver Platt as Jimmy King. Bill Goldberg as Goldberg. Rose McGowan as Sasha. David Duchovny as Bob Rueland. Minnie Driver as Grace Briggs. Carroll O'Connor as Marty O'Reilly. Robert Loggia as Angelo Pardipillo. Ian Holm as Joe Gould. Stanley Tucci as Joseph Mitchell. Patricia Clarkson as Vivian Marquie. Hope Davis as Therese Mitchell. Susan Sarandon as Alice Neel. Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Hays Hodges. Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Terry Childers. Guy Pearce as Maj. Mark Biggs. Bruce Greenwood as William Sokal. Blair Underwood as Capt. Lee. Ben Kingsley as Ambassador Mourain. Paul Newman as Henry. Linda Fiorentino as Carol. Dermot Mulroney as Wayne. Om Puri as George Khan. Linda Bassett as Ella Khan. Jimi Mistry as Tariq Khan. Raji James as Abdul Khan. Ben Stiller as Jake. Edward Norton as Brian. Jenna Elfman as Anna. Anne Bancroft as Ruth. Sandra Bullock as Gwen Cummings. Viggo Mortensen as Eddie Boone. Dominic West as Jasper. Diane Ladd as Bobbie Jean. Elizabeth Perkins as Lily. Steve Buscemi as Cornell. Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman. Willem Dafoe as Donald Kimball. Jared Leto as Paul Allen. Reese Witherspoon as Evelyn Williams. Samantha Mathis as Courtney Rawlinson. Chloe Sevigny as Jean. Damian Delgado as Topiltzin/Tomas. Jose Carlos Rodriguez as Fray Diego. Elpidia Carrillo as Tecuichpo/Don~a Isabel. In~aki Aierra as Hernando Cortes. Kevin Spacey as Larry. Danny DeVito as Phil. Peter Facinelli as Bob. Paul Campbell as Capone. Mark Danvers as Ratty. Cark Bradshaw as Wonie. Audrey Reid as Rita. Winston Bell as Floyd. Lenford Salmon as Not Nice. Matthew Brown as Brandon Allen. Richard Dutcher as Marcus Dalton. DeSean Terry as Elder Banks. Michael Buster as Elder Kinegar. Keeley Hawes as Lois Farquar. Fiona Shaw as Marda Norton. Maggie Smith as Lady Myra Naylor. Michael Gambon as Sir Richard Naylor. Natalie Portman as Novalee Nation. Ashley Judd as Lexie Coop. Stockard Channing as Sister Husband. Joan Cusack as Ruth Meyers. Mark Addy as Fred Flintstone. Stephen Baldwin as Barney Rubble. Kristen Johnston as Wilma Slaghoople. Jane Krakowski as Betty O'Shale. Thomas Gibson as Chip Rockefeller. Joan Collins as Pearl Slaghoople. Alan Cumming as Gazoo and Mick Jagged. Harvey Korman as Colonel Slaghoople. Salma Hayek as Rose. Stellan Skarsgard as Alex Green. Jeanne Tripplehorn as Lauren Hathaway. Saffron Burrows as Emma Green. Heather Graham as Joline. Casey Affleck as Jay. Luke Wilson as Carl. Goran Visnjic as Neil. Alfonso Arau as Grampy. Patricia Velasquez as Carmen. Dennis Quaid as Frank Sullivan. Jim Caviezel as John Sullivan. Andre Braugher as Satch DeLeon. Elizabeth Mitchell as Julia Sullivan. Noah Emmerich as Gordo Hersch. Shawn Doyle as Jack Shepard. Evelina Fernandez as Andrea. Scott Bakula as Joseph. Marta Du Bois as Sofia. Angela Moya as Lilly. Dyana Ortelli as Irene.

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