This ambitious film about the young women of LA's Hispanic gangsta subculture proves that using a partly non-professional cast doesn't guarantee a dramatically effective slice of realism. Admittedly, MI VIDA LOCA represents an advance in the area of ethnic verisimilitude--a few years
ago, talented director Allison Anders (GAS, FOOD, LODGING) might have been forced to work with Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, and Martha Plimpton in sepia-face. Still, the mixed professional and non-professional cast lacks the artistic seasoning to shape a screenplay that's largely anecdotal and
In Echo Park, a Hispanic neighborhood of Los Angles, girlhood friends Sad Girl (Angel Aviles) and Mousie (Seidy Lopez) find themselves at odds after each woman has a child with the same man, drug-dealer Ernesto (Jacob Vargas). The two gang members stop short of shooting each other, but Ernesto
is gunned down by a Caucasian customer from outside the ghetto. Reunited in their grief, the young mothers await the prison release of Giggles (Marlo Marron), who disappoints her admirers when she announces her intention to pursue a career in computers instead of resuming leadership of the gang.
Whisper (Nelida Lopez) recovers from wounds suffered during Ernesto's rub-out and coaches Ernesto's brother in the business of drugs.
Giggles and the girls discuss the future of Sauvacito, Ernesto's expensive, customized van, after a rival gangster, El Duran (Jesse Borrego) of the River Valley neighborhood, claims the vehicle was promised to him. Meanwhile, Sad Girl's college coed sister Alicia, aka La Blue Eyes (Magali
Alvarado), has been spending her time writing letters to prison pen-pal Juan, who abandons the correspondence after his release. Tempers flare in the barrio after the van is stolen and the home boys vow revenge, not realizing that a local youngster has simply borrowed the prized vehicle for a
joyride. Dreaming of a more secure life, Giggles wavers about a making a commitment to veteran gangsta Big Sleepy (Julian Reyes), a mechanic raising several small children on his own. Sad Girl takes Alicia to an off-turf party, where La Blue Eyes flirts with El Duran, who turns out to be Juan.
Echo Park residents crash the party to avenge the theft of Sauvacito and mistakenly blow away El Duran. Outside a bodega soon afterward, a River Valley woman evens the score by aiming at Little Sleepy (Gabriel Gonzales), but shoots down Big Sleepy's daughter instead. The Echo Lake girls pledge to
break the cycle of violence, but the outlook isn't bright at the film's end.
Once the viewer clears the formidable hurdle of sorting out characters' real names and gang nicknames, then matching them with dozens of unfamiliar faces, this girl-gang drama becomes reasonably affecting. But the director seems so intent on recreating the minutiae of barrio culture that
narrative basics--especially character development--get lost along the way. The problem is compounded by the largely non-professional cast. Many of MI VIDA LOCA's actors are actual inhabitants of Echo Park--purportedly playing distilled versions of themselves--but authenticity doesn't necessarily
equal realism, and the sometimes amateurish fumblings only draw attention to the artificiality of Anders's enterprise. MEAN STREETS would hardly have seemed more "real" had Scorsese substituted actual New York street kids for Keitel and De Niro.
Because we don't connect with the neophyte actresses, we can only view their diurnal tragedies with the dispassion with which we view news events. Anders has an appealingly reticent style that contrasts with the self-congratulatory flamboyance of certain other young directors, but her coolness
doesn't serve her purpose. While a more traditional approach might have involved middle-class audiences in the struggles of LA's forgotten youth, MI VIDA LOCA makes tourists of its viewers, and it's all we can do to push past the strangers onscreen. (Only Marron touches a nerve in the audience,
and that's because she's a natural talent with a real screen presence.) Everything seems genuine, but we're not convinced. (Violence, extreme profanity, substance abuse, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: This ambitious film about the young women of LA's Hispanic gangsta subculture proves that using a partly non-professional cast doesn't guarantee a dramatically effective slice of realism. Admittedly, MI VIDA LOCA represents an advance in the area of ethnic… (more)