Our protagonist, Magdalena (newcomer Emily Rios), is on the verge of her own quinceañera, the Latino equivalent of a bar mitzvah/Sweet Sixteen for girls. But she first has to take part in her friend’s quinceañera, which is way more decked out than hers will be, and she knows it. Coveting her friend’s wealth notwithstanding, she also bears the added pressure of adolescence: her sexuality. One guy, who looks old enough for a relationship to be illegal, continually presses her with and for affection. She wants to please him, but also doesn’t want to flaunt loose morals, especially since her ultra religious father would have her head.
She tries to balance this guy with her healthy disdain for her dad’s stinginess with her party, along with worrying way too much about her weight. She also learns that she will be re-gifted the dress her friend just used for her party—her skinnier, prettier friend. She feels comfortable with her friends, but not necessarily in her own skin. Add on top of all of this a dose of introversion and you’ve got yourself a classic angst-filled teenage girl.
I’ll spare you the other problems Magdalena has to deal with (believe me, it gets much worse), but know that she handles it all with such grace and perseverance. Rios and the director define “less is more” with this character. She is the spark and the fuse in every scene, and brings reality back to the tired genre of the family drama. It doesn’t matter if this specific story is based on truth because through Altmanesque dialogue and use of real problems real people have, this very well could have been a documentary.
This little indie flick that could picked up the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, so I decided to try it out on those merits alone. It’s an American film, but the characters speak both Spanish and English interchangeably, which I found to be less distracting than I thought it would—it actually added to realism of Hispanic culture. The writers create a great mix of exposition and dialogue, which is accompanied by subtle and stunning imagery and use of color. Pick this one up.