In Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's Quinceañera, a stretch Hummer comes to symbolize the shimmering promise of upward mobility to a Hispanic Los Angeles teenager (Emily Rios) eager to keep up with her much wealthier relatives. But before long, Rios has far more to worry about than scoring the perfect vehicle to ride to her quinceañera, a rite of passage for teenage girls that, like bar and bat mitzvahs, has devolved into an excuse for conspicuous consumption and flashy displays of wealth.
Westmoreland and Glatzer adopt a bare-bones documentary-style approach for this sensitive, sharply observed tale of a high-schooler (Rios) who becomes pregnant under singular circumstances. Ostracized by her devout family, the sulky Rios is sent to live with her hunky gay cousin (a brooding, magnetic Jesse Garcia) and her infinitely compassionate and understanding elderly uncle (Chalo González). Meanwhile, in an intriguing though underdeveloped subplot, Garcia stumbles into a torrid sexual affair with half of a slumming middle-aged gay yuppie couple, but the relationship is doomed as much by their gap in wealth as their sizable age difference. In the tradition of seemingly every other low-budget sleeper that ever wowed 'em at Sundance—Quinceañera won the Audience Award and Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at this year's festival—this trio of quirky ethnic outsiders bands together to form an unconventional but loving and supportive makeshift family.
Quinceañera sketches its characters and conflicts with warmth and empathy. The film looks and feels an awful lot like a slew of other micro-budgeted indies with a vaguely sociological bent, but its plaintive, heart-on-its-sleeve sincerity proves difficult to resist, especially as it winds its way to an unexpectedly moving conclusion. To the not-so-bitter end, Rios is intent on having her Quinceañera and her stretch Hummer, even if doing so requires an ambiguous miracle, a living (and dying) saint, a hint of magical realism, and filmmakers as bursting with unconditional love for Rios and Garcia as kindly old González.