Monday, July 1, 2013

Mi Vida Loca: a Movie Review

Even though I have a Netflix account, I still love going to my local neighborhood video store, VIDEOMAX2.  Maybe it's nostalgia, but there's something I really love about browsing through actual movie cases in a real store, like a book store or a record store.  One of the things I like about my particular neighborhood's video store is it's fine collection of Latino cinema.  This afternoon, I was browsing this section and came upon the movie "Mi Vida Loca" (My Crazy Life).  I remember this movie coming out when I was in junior high (mid-1990s) amidst a slew of "urban" films like "Menace 2 Society," "Boyz N The Hood," and "American Me."  Because these movies were rated "R" I was not allowed to see them.  I can't say I really wanted to at the time.  I was a white kid growing up in suburbia.  I was more into science fiction.  But today, as a 33-year-old adult, I rented "Mi Vida Loca" from VIDEOMAX2 and I absolutely loved it.  When I finished watching it, I immediately watched it again with the director's commentary.  That's how much I loved it.

The movie takes place in Echo Park, Los Angeles in the mid-1990s and centers around the lives of Latina gang members and their families.  One of the things I liked most about the film is the glimpse it gave into a subculture that I've always been an outsider to, Latino gang youth culture.  The movie does not glamorize this culture, but it also does not demonize its characters.  Rather, it strives for realism, and shows its protagonists as real, complex human beings with real loves and dreams and families and community.  The film is about more than gangs, though most of the main characters are current or former gang members.  It is, first and foremost, about a human community.  Specifically, the mid-1990s Echo Park Latino community.

The movie is an interesting historical document, because Echo Park has changed a lot since it came out.  As the director Allison Anders says in the commentary, "It's become hipster now."  Echo Park is certainly an interesting case study in the social phenomenon known as "gentrification," and it's even more interesting to me because I have dear friends who live in Echo Park who I visit on occasion.  The director of the film, a white woman, actually spent some time living in Echo Park, pre-gentrification.  I was hoping she would give her views on this in the commentary, but alas, all she said was, "It's become hipster now."  

Anyway, another thing I liked about the movie was how it depicted (or rather did not depict) urban violence.  The director talks about how she made a conscious choice to focus more on the impact of violence than the violence itself.  Thus, when the character "El Duran" is shot and killed at a party, all we hear is the gunshot, and then we see the woman who loved him, "La Blue Eyes" being embraced by her sister, Sad Girl.  The same thing happens when Ernesto (aka Bullet) gets shot.  We hear a gunshot, we see a shot of the moon, and then we are at a funeral with a grieving community.  Instead of focusing on the blood and guts, the movie focuses on the relational consequences of violence, which is I think a much more sensitive and responsible thing to do than to sensationalize it, as popular media tends to do.  

In the end, the movie is a sensitive glimpse into mid-1990s Latina gang culture, and this sensitivity is its greatest success.  As a white suburban male, I found myself connecting with the characters' humanity, rather than seeing them as some distant "other."  I highly recommend "Mi Vida Loca."

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