Directed by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland. Starring Emily Rios, Jesse Garcia, Chalo Gonzalez, J.R. Cruz, Jesus Castanos-Chima, Araceli Gazmán-Rico, David W. Ross. (2006, R, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Aug. 25, 2006
Imagine Gary (Ross), a thirtysomething British pretty boy with a stalled television career, fine furniture, and a bungalow in Los Angeles' rapidly gentrifying Echo Park neighborhood. Carlos (Garcia) is the pothead cholo 10 years younger who lives in the cottage out back with his great-great uncle Tomas (Gonzalez), a neighborhood character with a devotional garden and a champurrado cart. Gary and Carlos have just become lovers, mutually fascinated by each other. "You live in a whole other world, don't you?" says Gary dreamily. "No. You do," Carlos replies; he's not a dreamer. Meanwhile his serious and "traditional" cousin Magdalena (Rios) prepares for her quinceañera: dress borrowed and altered after a richer, cuter relative's fete; disagreements about a stretch Hummer limousine with her father (Castanos-Chima), a stern preacher at the storefront Echo Park Church of God. It's all par for the course of Chicana adolescence until Magdalena's studious boyfriend (Cruz) gets her pregnant by ejaculating on her thigh. Be it a miracle or a medical anomaly, the whole clan is thrown into a tizzy. Don't confuse this Sundance charmer with My Big Fat Mexican Debut, for its farcical scenes of high hair and waltzes form a genial, light-comic prism for watching race, age, class, and sexuality collide in one of America's most economically and ethnically complex cities. If Crash were an independent comedy shot on high-definition video with a mix of professional and nonprofessional actors, it might look something like this. The film is serious and thoughtful but not overwrought; it feels as cozy and welcoming as Tio Tomas' backyard shack. Of the cast, 16-year-old Rios, who makes her acting debut here, deserves particular mention. Writer-directors Glatzer and Westmoreland (The Fluffer) get the details of Mexican-American girlhood right, but the story's themes are universal: backstabbing friends, taboo first loves, and the dance of separation between teenagers and their traditionalist parents. Parents might balk at some of the aforementioned content, but the film is a wonderful choice for older teens and has considerable crossover appeal for adult audiences.