My Sister’s Quinceanera

August 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Released: 2013; Written and Directed by: Aaron Douglas Johnston; With: Silas Garcia, Elizabeth Agapito, Becky Garcia, Samantha Garcia, Tanner McCulley, Nicole Streat, Josefina Garcia

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My Sister’s Quinceanera falls together like summer vacation.  The days sort of float by, full of heat and fountains, fighting with siblings, homemade lunches, and beautifully wasted time.  Oldest brother Silas spends his days corralling his younger brothers and sisters, washing cars, and wooing Nicole, the sweet girl he’s had his eye on.  He’s also trying to make amends with trying to make a decision to leave both his family and his hometown for something just a little bit more thrilling.

The titular quinceanera belongs to Silas’ sister, Elizabeth.  His mother, Becky, painstakingly plans the event for the entire summer and it coaxes the movie to a moment of excitement (and decision, for Silas) among otherwise thick, lazy, Iowa summer days.

MSQ is set in Muscatine, Iowa, and features non-actors against a backdrop of small-town grocery stores, flat concrete fountains, Tastee Freeze’s, and homemade skateboard ramps.  In a really familiar and intimate move, Johnston creates a well-defined sense of place, scouring the streets of Muscatine for displays of functional reality graced with personal accessory: a stuffed monkey hanging from a tree in someone’s yard, a parade of children exiting someone’s house, leaving a scuffed door and a cluttered counter in their wake.  We may not be sure where Silas will end up by movie’s end, but we have no doubt where he’s come from.  

The group of non-actors in this film are beautifully representative of the picture Johnston has developed.  Silas Garcia is, not to put too fine a point on it, perfect.  His Silas is conflicted, provoked, and simultaneously frustrated by his family and guilt-ridden at the thought of leaving them.  His relationship with his sister, Samantha, is full of pure ambivalence. 

Halfway through the movie, in a moment of youthful spontaneity, Silas asks Nicole out.  He teaches her to bowl and they watch children skateboard while awkwardly holding hands.  When he finally kisses her, it’s ache-worthy, graceless and eager with shaking hands and mismatched rhythm.  When he tells Samantha about it later, it’s chuckle-worthy, sweet and fully representative of the conversations siblings share when there’s no one else to share them with, and when they’d rather not share them with anyone else.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I loved this movie.  It’s a fantastic visual work and the performances are so familiar, you’ll swear you know these lives.   It was a true joy to watch, and I think you might just love it too.

— Leah Gehlsen Morlan

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