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La Mission

La Mission

Rated R, 117 min. Directed by Peter Bratt. Starring Benjamin Bratt, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Erika Alexander, Jesse Borrego, Talisa Soto Bratt.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 14, 2010

Set in the Mission district of San Francisco, this film oozes with location detail and a knowing sense of Latino culture. In the lead role, Bratt delivers a fine performances as Che, a complicated man who is accustomed to using intimidation and his fists to resolve conflicts. Yet he is a devoted and loving single father to Jesse (Valdez), a high school senior who receives top grades in school. Jesse, however, harbors the secret of his true sexual identity, and when macho Che unwittingly discovers that his only son is gay, he flies into a rage that forces his son from the family home. Just as it sometimes takes a village to raise a child, it also can take a community to elevate a parent. Jesse is given shelter by by his supportive aunt and uncle (played by Soto Bratt and San Antonio native Borrego). Che’s longtime neighborhood pals, who hang out with him at his basement garage where he salvages old cars and exquisitely refinishes them with meticulous paint jobs, also serve as a neighborhood Greek chorus. Most instrumental, however, is Lena (Alexander, who’s best known for having played the lawyer Maxine on the long-running TV show Living Single). Lena moves into the apartment upstairs from Che and Jesse, and at first she is viewed as a gentrifying interloper. Gradually, tensions among the neighbors diminish as they get to know the individuals behind the first impressions. Peter Bratt’s script occasionally wallows in its melodramatic aspects, and the characters lack full dimension, but it is, nevertheless, an empathetic portrait of a man who struggles to work past his gut reactions. These reactions have served Che well in terms of helping him become a respected neighborhood figure, but they are impediments to any growth beyond boundaries of his outstretched fist. With his cholo tattoos and low-rider love, Che is an emblematic peacock of manhood. Yet he cooks and irons as well as any housewife, and is a nurturing influence when his own manhood is not under threat. Benjamin Bratt ably depicts both sides of this character and creates a memorable portrait in the process. (This review originally appeared in a wrap-up of the 2009 Austin Film Festival and has been slightly revised since that appearance. Benjamin and Peter Bratt will be in town on Friday, conducting Q&As after the 7pm show at the Arbor, the 8pm show at Tinseltown South, and the 9:30pm show at Dobie.)
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