out of Five
Running time: 90
Superbly written and brilliantly directed, this is an engaging, moving and thought-provoking drama with terrific performances from its ensemble cast.
What's it all about?
Echo Park L.A is set in the Echo Park community of L.A, a predominantly Latino district that is suddenly becoming trendy amongst affluent white people. It focuses on two characters in particular: Magdalena (Emily Rios), whose impending Quinceanera (an important day – think Bat Mitzvah) is thrown into disarray when she becomes pregnant, even though she hasn't technically had sex; and Carlos (Jesse Garcia), an ex-gang-member, thief and junkie who is trying to go straight.
When Carlos and Magdalena are both disowned by their families, they find refuge with Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez), their kindly great-great-uncle. As Magdalena tries to convince her boyfriend (Ramiro Iniguez) of his part in her plight, Carlos develops a sexual relationship with Tomas' new upscale landlords (David W Ross and Jason L Wood).
Originally titled Quinceanera (or 15th Birthday), Echo Park L.A
really captures the reality of the neighbourhood, to the point where it feels like a documentary at times. Directors Glatzer and Westmoreland (who made Fluffer) are helped by some astonishingly naturalistic performances from an impressive ensemble cast, most of whom are unknowns.
Emily Rios is terrific as Magdalena, brilliantly capturing both her character's confusion and her determination to get on with her life. She also sounds a lot like Scarlett Johansson at times. Similarly, Jesse Garcia is superb as Carlos – his gradual bonding scenes with Magdalena are extremely touching.
The film is beautifully shot, with strong location work, and the realistic dialogue (in both English and Spanish) adds considerably to the authenticity of the film. In addition, the direction is consistently surprising, in that the characters never quite behave the way you expect them to.
In short, this is an enjoyable, thoroughly engaging and frequently moving film with terrific performances throughout. Highly recommended.