In Mexican-American culture, a girl becomes a woman at age 15, in a ceremony resembling a wedding. Like the bar mitzvah, the quinceañera is loaded with hormonal anxiety and weighted by the clash of tradition and commerce. Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's Quinceañera is framed by two such events, though in between the writer-directors go looking for more: how cultures can expel good people for foolish reasons, and what those people do to survive and thrive.
When 14-year-old Magdalena (Emily Rios) discovers she's pregnant—though she's never had intercourse—her father banishes her. She joins her already banished cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia) at the home of great-grand-uncle Tomas (Chalo González), a sweet-natured octogenarian glad to have the company. Carlos' crime was being Mexican-American and gay, a storyline handled with surprising sensitivity.
The story has just enough suspense to keep it moving, and though the acting is variable (the nattering, improvised girl-talk sounds forced), the young leads deliver heartfelt performances. Glatzer and Westmoreland illuminate generation gaps and culture clashes: a girl doing a pole-dance in a Hummer limo, then blurting, "Don't tell mama!"; two gay white men sport-fucking a virginal Latino boytoy. Magdalena's apparent virgin pregnancy triggers a religious challenge and questions of personal trust: if Dad can't believe his daughter, is the Virgin Mary-loving man both a hypocrite and a lousy father?
Glatzer and Westmoreland also mull over the meaning of the quinceañera. Those Hummer limos—almost as important to the girls as their prom-like dresses—don't sit well with the event's supposedly spiritual aspect. We observe Magdalena and her little brother watching America's Next Top Model, shortly before her girlfriends gather to pore over the heavily produced video of the film-opening quinceañera.
Another tale of an unlikely family dynamic showing the way for closed-minded conservatives, Quinceañera may be simplistic at heart, but its drama is reasonably effective all the same.