Not Quite Shining
Despite its problems, there are many reasons to cheer for Luminarias.
Thursday, May 11, 2000
Luminarias is the kind of movie that you really want to like--for several reasons. First, there''s the success story angle: A small-budget (under $1 million) movie, Luminarias'' producers originally tried to get it made as a feature film; compromised and turned it into a play in order to get it produced at all; and then finally got the funding to make the film they''d originally envisioned.
And there''s the social/cultural awareness angle: Compared to the number of testosterone-driven films about things that explode, few are made about women, fewer about Latinas, and this may be the only one that makes such a personal attempt to explore themes related to cultural assimilation. Finally, there''s the local angle: The film was picked up for distribution by New Latin Pictures in Sand City, and is set for a nationwide release.
But under the guidance of director Jose Luis Valenzuela, the movie never quite gels, and all the good wishes in the world aren''t enough to make the story universally appealing.
The film focuses on a group of four Latina professionals who gather at Luminarias, a restaurant in East Los Angeles, to discuss work, love, life and family. Andrea (script/screenwriter Evelina Fernandez) is an attorney going through a divorce who finds herself surprisingly attracted to a Jewish lawyer (Scott Bakula), despite her previously adamant stance that white guys are only out to exploit Latinas. Sofia (Marta DuBois) is her mirror opposite: a therapist who is working among the whites in West L.A., but who suddenly finds herself falling for a Chicano waiter who barely speaks English. Irene (Dyana Ortelli), a clothing designer, is having difficulty coming to grips with her brother''s homosexuality, and Lily (Angela Moya), a visual artist, thinks she has found true love--until she meets her Korean American boyfriend''s parents, and confronts their racism. A subplot involves Andrea''s secretary (Seidy Lopez) who is trying to get custody of her son from her abusive husband.
It''s a rich blend of characters and scenarios, that offers the writer and actors many avenues to explore. Perhaps that''s the film''s first problem. With so many topics at its disposal, and so many plot threads, the movie is never really able to focus on any one thing or to explore it very deeply. It becomes a sort of introductory course titled "Cultural Problems Latinas Face, 101." As such, the film does a nice job of applying a light touch to some thorny issues. But somehow the film never manages the warmth--either between the characters or with the audience--that makes us truly care about them.
Scenes in Luminarias that might have been intimate on stage, seem sterile on screen. The camera seems reluctant to get up close to its actors, preferring to keep its distance. And, too, there''s a weird hybrid of acting styles going on. The four leads maintain the same relatively broad strokes they must have used when the play was performed for the Latino Theater Company at the L.A. Theater Center. And that''s distancing enough. But couple that with more subdued performances from actors like Bakula, and it''s also distracting, forcing us to confront our suspended disbelief.
Despite the problems, Luminarias is still a noteworthy attempt at blending social commentary and art, and deserves recognition for that. And, even though the film may not make a big dent in the mainstream market, as Variety wrote, "it should work in Latino territories, and could find a niche in the U.S. via the right specialist distributor." Given New Latin''s success with its previous release, Nueba Yol (1996), Luminarias stands to be one of the more successful indie releases of the year.
Luminarias... (* * )Rated: R, 100 min.
Director: Jose Luis Valenzuela
Starring:Evelina Fernandez, Marta DuBois, Angela Moya, Dyana Ortelli, Seidy Lopez, Scott Bakula, Cheech Marin
Where: Century Park, Galaxy 6
When: See Movie Times