Tonight PJ and I watched Quinceanera on DVD. It’s a great film written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmorland. It’s definitely one of the best independent gay films we’ve seen recently.

The movie is about two cousins, Magdalena and Carlos. Magdalena, played by Emily Rios, is nearly her 15th birthday, on which she is supposed to have a sweet-fifteen party. A few months before the big celebration, Magdalena finds out that she is pregnant, despite her protestations that she and her boyfriend have never gone all the way. Her preacher father kicks her out of the house, and she moves in with her uncle. Already living with the uncle is Carlos, who was also thrown out of his family’s home when they discovered his homosexuality (they found one of the websites he frequented on the family’s computer).

The uncle, played by Chalo González, lives in a small house,  on a property that has recently been purchased by a gay couple. His new landlords immediately take an interest in Carlos, played by Jesse Garcia, and Carlos immediately takes an interest in them. Unfortunately, Carlos’s initiation into the world of middle-class gaydom is far from smooth. Indeed, both Carlos and Magdalena are in for several disappointments over the course of the movie, but the realities of their lives ends up being honest and beautiful rather than simply or merely sad.

One of the things I like about the movie is its hard look at social conditions for these poor hispanic families. Set in Echo Park in Los Angeles, the film looks at the downside to gentrification: in order for the gays to move into the neighborhood, the previous residents have to be displaced. Many of these residents, like the uncle, quickly find that they can no longer afford to rent in the area, and others, seeing the rising worth of their homes, find that they cannot pass up the opportunity to sell to the relatively wealthy (and usually white) gays. While the movie explores these tensions, I also like that it doesn’t become a gay-bashing movie, which I could easily imagine it being.

I also like the movie’s complex depiction of gay people. Carlos is initially shown as a thief and troublemaker, but we quickly see that this is in part due to his situation as a poorly educated and nearly homeless young adult with few prospects. His style is very much that of his neighborhood rather than of the middle-class gays who move in next door. And he navigates a gay masculinity that is part street tough machismo and part sensitive lover. Furthermore, the middle class gays are somewhat predatory and even villainous. The two men initiate Carlos into their lives via a threesome, but their interest in him is almost solely sex.

The film is bilingual, which is another element that I love. As I’ve written before, I often have ethnic envy. These characters’ effortless transitions from Spanish to English and back again, often in the same sentence, evokes that envy. I also think the decision to use a hand-held camera worked well for the film; it keeps it feeling real and natural.

And finally, I like that the film mostly avoids the cliched ending. Everything isn’t magically resolved. Instead, we have some people changing, some not. It feels right and real. (Magdalena’s story ends most predictably, perhaps. But ultimately, I think there’s even some ambiguity in her ending as well.)

This movie was written and directed by Glatzer and Westmoreland, the latter of who got his start writing and directing gay adult movies, including Naked Highway, one of the best gay adult films of all time (um … not that I’ve ever seen that kind of film or anything). He also directed a handful of other notable adult films, but then he transitioned into mainstream films with The Fluffer, a really bad gay movie about a cute gay guy who moves to Hollywood to be a film maker and becomes a “fluffer” for his porn idol, a gay-for-pay actor who becomes increasingly unstable as the movie progresses. He and his directing (and life) partner are, at least on the surface, quite similar to the gays in Quinceanera, though they insist they never did the things the movie’s gays do.

While The Fluffer didn’t show much promise, Quinceanera definitely does. It’s a great film and I highly recommend it.