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My Family

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: My Family

Starring: Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales
Director: Gregory Nava
Rated: R
RunTime: 125 Minutes
Release Date: May 1995
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Eduardo Lopez Rojas, Jenny Gago, Elpidia Carrillo, Lupe Ontiveros, Jacob Vargas, Jennifer Lopez, Maria Canals, Edward James Olmos

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

MY FAMILY (MI FAMILIA) tells the story of several generations of Mexican Americans living in East LA. Much like TO LIVE, it tells the story by focusing on three decades of life. In the case of MY FAMILY, it is the 20s, 50s, and 80s.

The story opens with Paco Sanchez (Edward James Olmos) toiling away at an old typewriter that is on its last legs. He is recording the history of his family. The movie then moves to the past and brings us up to the present in a straight forward chronological sequence.

Paco starts with the story of his father, Jose Sanchez (Jacob Vargas in the 20s and Eduardo Lopez Rojas in the 50s and 80s) leaving Mexico in the 20s and walking what must have been a thousand miles from central Mexico to Los Angeles. Once there he comes to stay with an old cousin known by the nickname of El Californio (Leon Singer) since he has been in California since it was part of Mexico. This historical footnote is an effect way of reminding American viewers that the real California natives are Mexicans and the immigrants are the actually the Americans who took over California and redefined the social structure.

Jose marries Maria (Jennifer Lopez in the 20s and Jenny Gago in the 50s and 80s), and they start a large family. Among their children are Jimmy (Jimmy Smits), Toni (Constance Marie), Chucho (Esai Morales), Irene (Lupe Ontiveros), Memo (Enrique Castillo), and Paco, but I may have forgotten some. For political reasons, Jimmy marries Isabel (Elpidia Carrillo) and starts his own branch of the family. As someone who grew up an only child, it is always a delight to live a vicarious life with many siblings to know and love. Here the family was reminiscent of the large Italian families in the GODFATHER albeit the Sanchez family's many brushes with the law were not near as dramatic or as often.

The acting by Esai Morales and Elpidia Carrillo was the best. Morales gives a performance full of life. The part he plays is much like that of Tony in WEST SIDE STORY. His performance was the most interesting to me although Jimmy Smits had the character with the most anger and potential. For a small role, Elpidia Carrillo won over my heart. As you watch the show, you wanted to kick Jimmy for not liking Isabel sooner.

The best part of the show was the set decoration by Barry Robison. He recreated East Los Angeles with careful attention to everything from perfect condition old low riders to the cornfields the people had in back of their homes. The cinematography was of equal quality. Every scene appeared to be filmed in the last ten minute glow of sunset. Many scenes were actually filmed then, you can tell by observing the shadows. Others, however, were filmed at noon so they must have used filters.

For a show so well constructed and which tries so hard to do for Mexican Americans what films like TO LIVE did for the Chinese, I must admit I was extremely frustrated by it. My problem was with the script by the director (Gregory Nava) and his wife Anna Thomas. Like a rock skimming across a pond but never getting wet, we meet, but only briefly, numerous characters. We are told innumerable stories some of which they have little time to act out but feel compelled to tell us anyway.

Watching the movie it is as if your neighbor invites you over to tell you the story of his vacation, flashes 800 slides in front of you and then wishes you good-bye. You leave knowing very little about a lot of places, but not knowing anything in much depth. Contrast this script with that of TO LIVE which also spanned 3 decades. In that movie, the scenes lasted much longer, and we got to know the characters much better. Here the editor (Nancy Richardson) felt obligated to leave in some of every possible scene. She should have cut out more scenes and gave the ones left more substance.

Another, albeit smaller problem, is with the believability. Were this not being presented documentary style, one could ignore plausibility, but not as presented. As just two examples, I found it hard to believe that a woman torn from her husband and who is trying desperately to get back to him for years would never think about writing him a letter. Second, why did she have to walk so far carrying a baby? Surely she could have hitchhiked, earned money for bus fare or something.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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