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Echo Park L.A.
cast: Emily Rios, Jesus Castanos-Chima, Alicia Sixtos, Chalo Gonzalez, and Jesse Garcia

writers and directors: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland

87 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Magdalena (Emily Rios) has barely celebrated her Quinceañņera or 15th birthday when her world falls apart. She discovers she's pregnant and despite her protestations that she's still a virgin, her father throws her out. She's taken in by her grandfather Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez), who has become the unofficial last refuge for the family, sharing his house already with her cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia), ostracised as much for his suspected homosexuality as his criminal tendencies.

Echo Park L.A. (aka: Quinceañņera) is a remarkably gentle, naturalistic movie that follows the endlessly complex interactions of a single family with compassion, wit and honesty. The film sits squarely on the shoulders of Rios and Garcia and they carry it with consummate ease, completely at ease with one another as only family members are. Rios' calm, resolute determination that she's done nothing wrong is both admirable and heart breaking to watch, as she is ostracised by her entire family for something she maintains, categorically, that she did not do. It's an incredibly difficult role to play but Rios brings it a pragmatic, grounded feel that makes the emotional scenes all the more affecting.

In stark contrast, Garcia attacks his role with the relish of a starving man at a banquet. His first scene, turning up at the Quinceañņera and being thrown out by his own family tells you, you think, everything that you need to know about Carlos and the rest of the film takes tremendous pleasure in proving how completely wrong that first impression. For all his muscles, shaved head and gang tattoos, Carlos is a compassionate, loyal young man who is immensely conflicted. Garcia plays this aspect of his personality, especially his approach to his sexuality, with complete authority and utter vulnerability making some of the scenes between Carlos and his grandfather's new landlords (David Ross and Jason L. Wood) crackle with sexual tension, the threat of violence or at times both.

The relationship between the two and how their lives are affected by the gentrification of the area makes for fascinating and at times desperately poignant viewing. The scene where Carlos brings one of his landlords an Elton John CD as a gift is a perfect example, both funny and near tragic as it becomes clear exactly how unsure Carlos is of what he is and how he should act. The consequences of his actions and how he, Magdalena and Tio Tomas (Gonzalez, who is capable of stealing scenes without saying a word) deal with them give the second half of the film a real dramatic edge, leading to a conclusion which is grounded, pragmatic and all the more emotional for it.

Echo Park L.A. is an extremely subtle, almost subdued film that manages to be almost everything to everybody. A fable, a comedy about growing up, a tragedy about families and the story of a young man coming to terms with himself, it's an intensely varied, richly drawn story that has picked up several award and deservedly so. Worth your time...

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