Reviewed by Mike Emery, Fri., July 7, 2000
SelenaD: Gregory Nava (1997); with Edward James Olmos, Jennifer Lopez, John Seda, Constance Marie, Jacob Vargas, Lupe Ontiveros, Jackie Guerra.
It's been five years since the infamous Selena murder. It was an event that rocked South Texas and captured much of America's attention. While overall, tabloid sensationalism overshadowed the tragic loss of life, Nava's film attempts to convey Selena's career in a concise, light style. At the film's opening, it's learned that Selena's father Abraham Quintanilla had high hopes of becoming a doo wop crooner. When his dream was met with sharp denial from racist whites and Chicanos wanting Tejano music, he gave up on show biz. Years later, the older Quintanilla (Olmos) decides to teach his children how to play instruments and sing Fifties standards. Sure enough, he pushes them toward the limelight that rejected him. His daughter Selena (Lopez) becomes the centerpiece of the group, Los Dinos, with her sharp vocals and sassy dance moves. Her talent is natural, but Abraham remains a firm manager constantly keeping the band on tour. Of course, the incredible-looking Selena eventually finds love in the form of rogue guitarist Chris Perez (Seda) despite her father's objections. Other obstacles include crossing over into Mexico's market as well as reaching a national audience. Despite its sad outcome, the film is all fluff and well-delivered by Nava. He smartly goes for the heartstrings, depicting Selena as a bright-eyed, youthful spirit and Abraham as an old-fashioned, caring dad. Books like the scandalous Selena's Secret may indicate otherwise, but there's no reason for exploitation here, especially when the executive producer is the real Abraham. Olmos' portrayal is predictable and corny, although he does get points for his added girth. The real star is Lopez, who is able to fully capture the persona and energy of a starstruck girl from South Texas. From the dialect to the mannerisms, she steps into the role with ease. Add her dancing to the mix and she's a natural for the role. In a sense the whole product is bittersweet. While some scenes seem highly insincere, Lopez's energy and Nava's pacing keep everything afloat. Likewise, the pulsating soundtrack and concert re-creations help make the film a memorable document of the departed singer.