(ca) wrote: The Problem With Combining Stories Writer-director Gregory Nava says that everything in this movie actually happened, and I don't doubt that's true. Of course, the issue is that it didn't just happen to one family. This is the telling of the lives of several stories that he heard when researching this film in East Los Angeles. Which rather brings up the question of why you'd have to research a theoretically autobiographical film. Because the end result is that these people's lives are far more crowded than the lives of real people. Yes, I'm aware that one of my favourite comedies was put together the same way, but it's different in comedy. You don't have to find it as believable as you do drama. I think there was a way to make a masterpiece out of this, and the short explanation is to not have so much stuff happen. Make it a simpler movie but let us explore what does happen more carefully. Jose Sanchez (Jacob Vargas then Eduardo Lpez Rojas) is alone in the world except for one relative. So he walks away from his small village in Michoacn, Mexico, and goes to live with his great-uncle (Len Singer) in Los Angeles. He is yet another working stiff, crossing the Los Angeles River into the rest of the city, one of untold numbers of immigrants and their children going to maintain yards, clean houses and businesses, and tend children. There, he meets Maria (Jennifer Lopez then Jenny Gago). They fall in love and get married. Over the years, she is illegally deported and must make her way back to her family. Their oldest daughter, Irene (Belladonna Campos, Cassandra Campos, Maria Canals-Berrera, then Lupe Ontiveros), gets married. Their second son, Chucho (Esai Morales), kills and is killed. Their youngest child, Jimmy (Jonathan Hernandez then Jimmy Smits), ends up in prison, marries for political reasons, and seems to lose everything. And the Sanchez family just keeps going, the way families do. Really, Jimmy is the only one who seems to have much of a personality. Irene is fat; it's funny! (She also must be played by two different actresses as an adult because of how much fatter she's supposed to be as an older woman.) But there is Toni (Constance Marie). We never learn why she wants to become a nun in the first place, and we never learn if it's more than just Scott Bakula which makes her leave her order later on. (Not that I don't completely understand falling in love with Scott Bakula, but it does rather indicate that she didn't have a vocation going in.) Come to that, we don't know what's behind the rivalry between Chucho's gang and that of Butch Mejia (Michael DeLorenzo). There is a lot of story that's missing, and most of it is in the personality of the characters, which isn't developed terribly well. Memo (Greg Albert then Enrique Castillo) is possibly the biggest cipher of all, though I thought his story was potentially one of the most interesting. We've seen gang wars before, but the story of the changing lifestyle of an immigrant group is only ever used for jokes. Of course, the one who challenges Memo for the title is Paco (Anthony Gozalez, Michael Gonzalez, Benito Martinez, then Edward James Olmos). He's the narrator, but everything which happens to him, happens to his family. We know he joined the Navy, but we don't know anything that happened to him while he was there. We see how Carlitos (Paul Robert Langdon) handled not having parents, but we don't know about how Paco felt when his mother was taken from him. Actually, we don't know how much of anyone felt about that, because the movie only chooses to show us Maria's perspective during that time. But he tells us how everyone else felt about things, never really letting us see himself. This is probably also a result of the fact that it's not really Nava's story, but a good storyteller can put himself in the place of anyone in the story, and Nava simply doesn't manage that. There are some good performances here, mostly from Jimmy Smits--after all, he's given the most to work with. And it does go over some of the lesser-known history of the Mexican experience in Los Angeles. (Though I really don't think [i]El Californio[/i] was quite old enough to have come to Los Angeles when it was still Mexico, unless he came as an infant.) It's a little implausible to me that so many squad cars would be called out for one [i]vato[/i] knifing another at a dance, but that's probably beside the point. Certainly Chucho wasn't the only person killed by the police. Though of course his fate in the prison system for murder wouldn't have been happy and cheerful, either, something the movie rather glosses over despite having another character spend time in prison. I never spent much time in East LA, when I lived down there; I never had much reason to. But families like this one are not limited to one region of one city. This movie was trying to show people that families are all alike everywhere. Too bad essentially no families live lives quite like this one.