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'Luminarias': a Sharp, Fresh Look at the Latino Experience
By KEVIN THOMAS, Times Staff Writer
"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
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.
* MPAA rating: R, for language and sexuality. Times guidelines: language,
adult themes and situations.
Evelina Fernandez: Andrea
Scott Bakula: Joseph
Marta Du Bois: Sofia
Angela Moya: Lilly
Dyana Ortelli: Irene
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.
In general release.
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times
thanks to Barbara
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