LAFF 2013: My Sister’s Quinceañera (**½)

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my sister's quinceneara

The coming-of-age story is the new “go-to” Hollywood narrative, but director Aaron Douglas Johnston attempts something rather different with his take on the subgenre. With My Sister’s Quinceañera, Johnston plants his feet in the Latino community and fictitiously illustrates one young adult’s desire to break free from a town whose rural tranquility has lulled his family into complacency. As someone who long wanted to break free from their pleasant yet career-limited hometown, I can completely empathize with the protagonist’s yearning for a more fulfilling life. Except that in the case of Silas (Silas Garcia), he isn’t given the beneficial push or enthusiastic support from his family like I was. It isn’t that he’ll be excommunicated if he leaves, but Silas has responsibilities that force him to remain ever present in the lives of his loved ones. As a single mother with five young children, Silas’ mom relies on him to be the “man of the house.” Silas is especially close to his hyperactive little sister Cecilia, who views her own path going in the same trajectory as their mother’s: living and raising a family in rural Muscatine, Iowa till the end of her days. He knows that if he leaves, she’ll be heartbroken, as will the rest of his family that depends on Silas more than he can ever understand.

The narrative centers around Silas’ sister Samantha and her upcoming quinceañera party. In Hispanic culture, this fifteenth birthday celebration marks the end of a young girl’s childhood. Johnston uses the titular plot as a way for Silas to reflect on his own entry into adulthood and what this transition means for his future. It’s unclear whether Johnston is slightly critiquing Hispanic culture or merely observing it, but what I gathered is that there’s a danger to following tradition and revolving your world around a stagnant domestic life, where the family’s needs comes before the needs of the self. My Sister’s Quinceañera touches on but doesn’t grapple with these murky arguments enough. Despite an incredible, naturalistic lead performance by the unknown Garcia and a realistic exhibition of Mexican-American familial life, Johnston’s My Sister’s Quinceañera ultimately has the same problem as its protagonist: it wants to go somewhere but doesn’t.

My Sister’s Quinceañera is a part of the Narrative Feature Competition at LAFF this year. Check out the trailer below: