Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
Original title: Mi Familia
USA, 1995. American Playhouse, American Zoetrope, Majestic Films International, Newcomb Productions. Screenplay by Gregory Nava, Anna Thomas. Cinematography by Edward Lachman. Produced by Anna Thomas. Music by Mark McKenzie. Production Design by Barry Robison. Costume Design by Tracy Tynan. Film Editing by Nancy Richardson. Academy Awards 1995. Independent Spirit Awards 1995.
Multiple generations of a Latino-American family in California are narrated in this middling saga by Gregory Nava (El Norte). Edward James Olmos is the standout in the cast (and sadly the most underused) as a writer who tells us about his relatives, starting with his father who as a young man crossed the border into the United States and raised a family with his young wife (played in her early years by a then-unknown Jennifer Lopez). The film moves to the fifties as their children grow up, with teenager Esai Morales the young troublemaker with the stylish dance moves who can’t keep out of trouble with the law, much to the exasperation of his parents. Twenty years later we catch up with little brother Jimmy Smits, whose frustrations with the poverty and oppression that have marked his family up until this point have turned him into a lawbreaking ball of furious rage who is given the opportunity to reform his ways and heal his emotional wounds but isn’t sure if he can take it. Nava puts a lot of sincerity into every scene of this forgettable film, but the characters are rarely compelling and the situations they find themselves are regrettably melodramatic. Perhaps if the operatic tragedy was interrupted by some notable humour it would be a more stylish experience, but sadly it is merely a collection of familiar cliches brought to a higher level only by Ed Lachman’s beautiful photography and the strong performances. You get the feeling that everyone was so impressed with themselves for contributing to an all-Latino movie that they forgot to actually make a good one. Have some Tortilla Soup instead; it’s got much better dialogue and doesn’t rely on the stereotype of tight, ignorant white people for its lighter moments.