In ‘Quinceanera,’ it’s rough growing up

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Special to The Times

“Quinceanera” takes its title from the Latino custom of celebrating a girl’s 15th birthday as elaborately as a family can afford. Endearing and perceptive, it is set in picturesque Echo Park, a neighborhood rapidly undergoing gentrification.

The quinceanera, in honor of Alicia Sixtos’ lovely Eileen, opens the film, introducing the two young people who will be the film’s central figures, along with their great-great-uncle, a street vendor and beloved community figure. Magdalena (Emily Rios) is not enjoying the party, less than happy at the prospect of wearing cousin Eileen’s altered hand-me-down for her own impending quinceanera and experiencing a wave of jealousy over her handsome boyfriend, Herman (J.R. Cruz). The festivities are interrupted by the unwelcome arrival of Eileen’s brother Carlos (Jesse Garcia), a rebellious youth disowned by his parents and taken in by Uncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez).

A gay couple, Gary (David W. Ross) and James (Jason L. Wood), have just bought the property where Tomas has lived for 28 years and remodeled the front house, and after she discovers that technical virginity is not a guarantee against pregnancy, Magdalena also seeks refuge with Uncle Tomas in his rear cottage.


Magdalena, Carlos and Tomas are as likable and intelligent as they are vulnerable. Their mutual affection and sustenance could easily turn sentimental, but writer-director team Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland set off these qualities with all-too-credible, casually self-centered behavior by individuals who don’t even remotely consider the consequences of their actions. As sweet and gentle as it is, “Quinceanera” is quite clear-eyed about human cruelty and indifference. In structure, however, there is a circularity to the film that allows it to end on a well-earned upbeat note.



MPAA rating: R for language, some sexual content and drug use

A Sony Pictures Classics release. Writers-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. Producer Anne Clements. Cinematographer Eric Steelberg. Editors Robin Katz, Clay Zimmerman. Music Micko. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

In selected theaters.