My Family, Mi Familia
1995, R, 128 min. Directed by Gregory Nava. Starring Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales, Eduardo Lopez Rojas, Jenny Gago, Elpidia Carrillo, Constance Marie, Edward James Olmos.
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., May 5, 1995
Gregory Nava's (El Norte, A Time of Destiny) most recent film spans 50 years in the life of the Sanchez family, a Mexican-American clan whose roots in the United States date back to the 1920s in Los Angeles when, as middle son and writer Paco Sanchez (Olmos) narrates, “The border was just a line in the dirt.” As written by Nava and Anna Thomas, the film's epic proportions occasionally diminish into blips in the family's history as the action takes place in the 1930s, then jumps to the late 1950s, and finally concludes in the 1970s. These 20-year shifts are problematic in terms of developing any real connections with characters such as the ill-fated Chucho (Morales) and his brother Jimmy (played as an adult by Smits). Nava and Thomas do present some compelling situations, such as the deportation of matriarch Maria Sanchez (Gago) in the 1930s and her struggle to return with her newborn son Chucho to her husband and two older children in Los Angeles. In addition, Edward Lachman's cinematography effectively recreates with warmth and nostalgia Los Angeles during the film's three main time periods. However, scenes that attempt to depict the problematic integration of American culture with the Sanchez's Mexican heritage, such as the scene in which the entire family gathers to watch I Love Lucy, groan under the burden of representing years of stereotypes. This scene's awkwardness is further complicated when daughter Toni (Marie), a Catholic nun, enthuses, “We always watch it at the convent!” My Family, Mi Familia's cast represents some powerhouse acting talents, and yet the film loses steam because of weak dialogue and underdeveloped characters. Perhaps the film would do better as a longer production, allowing Nava to explore the family's experiences at a less-frantic pace; clocking in at just under two hours, My Family, Mi Familia seems to speed through the important developments in this family's history. Comparisons already have been made to The Godfather because of the film's multi-generational narrative and My Family, Mi Familia's executive producer being none other than Francis Ford Coppola. While the current state of Hollywood cinema calls out for a strong epic film about Mexican-American life (or any non-Caucasian life, for that matter), Nava's film does not fill that void.