La Mission Directed by: Peter Bratt Cast: Benjamin Bratt, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Erika Alexander Running Time: 1 hr 57 mins Rating: R Release Date: July 9, 2010 (limited)
PLOT: An alcoholic ex-con (Bratt) is forced to come to terms with his son's sexuality. When he struggles to accept his son, his neighbor helps him along the way.
WHO'S IT FOR? I'll admit this is primarily for a gay audience, specifically a Latino gay audience. The film deals a lot with the culture and the inherent homophobia as well as his son's struggle for acceptance. Anyone who has been through the experience of coming out to a less than welcoming group may see some of themselves in this film.
EXPECTATIONS: As a gay man, I've lived through coming out. I didn't feel the need to see it on the big screening, but still, I hoped for something other than the traditional coming out story or perhaps a glimpse at what life is like in the Mission district in San Francisco.
Benjamin Bratt as Che Rivera: Bratt does his best to portray a hardened ex-con with a gay son. That being said, I was more convinced by his performance as an FBI agent in Miss Congeniality. The role feels like Oscar bait, but is far from enjoyable. Seriously, I felt like the character lacked any real depth and Bratt didn't help matters. He comes across as stiff. Perhaps it's because the role of the homophobic father has been done to death, but Bratt brought nothing new to the role. Score: 4
Jeremy Ray Valdez as Jesse Rivera: The role of the gay son is even more dangerous territory. I was surprised by the direction that the character took. Sure, there are those stereotypical scenes (I swear if I hear "but I'm still your son" one more time, I will scream) but he's surprisingly hardcore. Better than that, he's not one-dimensional. I can tell you, this is one of the more accurate portrayals of a gay character because it delves into the complexity of the difference between being a gay man and being a man who happens to be gay. He's open about his sexuality (granted, through no choice of his own) but it's a secondary characteristic. Score: 8
Erika Alexander as Lena: Lena is impressive in many ways, but particularly because people don't write characters like this very often. She's a strong independent woman who doesn't take abuse. Her character's back story is a little cliched, but her role in the movie as the voice of reason is a necessary evil. She works better with this, than she does a love interest, which is sort of thrown together at the movie's halfway point. Her scenes were a breath of fresh air in an otherwise almost offensively cliche movie. Score: 7
TALKING: Like I said, there are some lines that seem to work their way into every queer-themed movie and La Mission is no exception. It's frustrating to watch most of the time because it feels like an episode of Dawson's Creek but with Latinos. The dialogue is certainly not a strong suit of the movie, but every so often, there'd be something to turn it around. It has a way with the simple truths that redeems itself every so often, but by the film's end, too much has happened. It's a classic case of "Fool me once? Shame on you. Fool me 74 times? Shame on me." Score: 5
SIGHTS: Going into it, it's pretty obvious that Peter Bratt is going to go the "gritty realism with a touch of the poetic" route. By the end of the opening credits, I was already pretty over it. It does a good job of showing the fervor of urban life, but there's only so much time that it can be done in an interesting way. Lena's apartment with it's touch of worldliness and color is a beacon in an otherwise colorless world. Another beautiful aspect of the film is the low rider culture. Unfortunately, the film can never really decide where to put in the car culture, but when it gives the audience glimpses of the cars and the attention to detail, all of it is overwhelmingly majestic. Score: 7
SOUNDS: I can't say personally, but the music seemed to represent the culture of the characters. There was some rap and reggaeton, which I've never been a big fan of, but it served the point of telling a little bit about the characters so it worked well. The bizarre addition to the soundtrack, which is supposed to be a personal favorite of Che and his crew, is the use of motown. It's never fully explained why they like it so much, so it was a little unclear if it was a personal preference or a regional/cultural thing, but none of it was bad. It was eclectic to say the least. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: It's difficult to pick the best scene. Not because there are so many to choose from, but so many of them have been seen before. I'd probably pick the most emotionally genuine, which is the largely silent and tense lunch after Jesse moves back in and is trying to talk to his father.
ENDING: Um... there is one. That's all I really know what to say to that question. It seems like it should have come an hour earlier, but instead the movies keeps on trucking. By the end, we're given the tacked on, ambiguous indie ending.
QUESTIONS: If his wife died in 1985, how is his son graduating in 2009? Why does every queer-themed movie have an obligatory hate crime? There are plenty of questions I have for this movie, but I'd rather put it out of my head, so I won't bother.
REWATCHABILITY: Little to none. I took a queer cinema class in my college days (and by that, I mean last year) where this movie could have proven useful, but for entertainment? No.
It's difficult to say why movies like La Mission get made. Not that it doesn't have its good moments, but here's the thing: It's aimed at a gay audience and I understand how representation in pop culture is supposed to foster a feeling of acceptance and all that touchy feely crap. But, and stay with me here, my personal philosophy is that I've lived it and that was painful enough. I don't need to see it on a big screen. Even leaving myself out of it, nobody needs to be put through this. Even as your average movie-goer, the film feels unfocused and never seems to really pay off.
It would probably be different if it felt like the project was at all sincere. Instead, it recycles cliches and platitudes until Bratt is blue in the face, and after that? Yeah, there's still about 45 minutes left. The movie drags for a large majority of it and that's because it lacks the heart to make an old idea new again. Adding salt to the wound, is a tired love story thrown together at the last minute and a quest for redemption that never seems to come full circle.
I will give it the credit that it deserves for focusing on a different culture, which does something to move the film along, but never enough. In the end, what saves the wreckage of this movie are some key performances (unfortunately not the main character's) by the supporting characters. Still, even Jeremy Ray Valdez and Erika Alexander can't carry the movie alone through the steel traps of stereotypes and cliches that make up the rest of La Mission.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10