Screenplay : Evelina Fernández
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Evelina Fernández (Andrea), Scott Bakula (Joseph), Marta DuBois (Sofia), Ángela Moya (Lilly), Dyana Ortelli (Irene), Cheech Marin (Jesus), Robert Beltran (Joe), Sal Lopez (Pablo), Seidy Lopez (Cindy), Lupe Ontiveros (Tia Tona)
The title of Luminarias comes from a fictional Los Angeles restaurant in which four women in their early 40s regularly gather to discuss their lives--sex, love, marriage, infidelity, work, and the like. What makes Luminarias different is that the four women are Latina. While all things Latin have been getting more and more popular in the last few years, there have been almost no movies that have dealt with the lived experienced of Chicanos in the United States. Luminarias does just that.
The script was penned by star Evelina Fernández, a two-decade veteran of Hollywood who was tired of the lack of stories being told about American Latinos. Costing just under $1 million and funded entirely by donations from members of the Latino community all over the United States, Luminarias is an effective romantic dramedy that deals with cross-cultural romance, racism, family tensions, and heartbreak. Smoothly directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela, Fernández's husband, the film moves along at a brisk pace, but manages to slow down from time to time to observe the little details that make it feel real.
Fernández stars as Andrea, a successful lawyer whose husband, Joe (Robert Beltran), has recently left her for a younger, white woman. This brings out Andrea's bitter dislike of whites, which stems back to her childhood. This latent racism is ironic because she ends up falling in love with a white, Jewish lawyer named Joseph (Scott Bakula). The complications between Andrea and Joseph are not only racial and cultural, but also professional: They first meet because Andrea is representing a young, battered woman seeking to divorce her violence-prone husband, who is represented by Joseph.
Andrea and Joseph's narrative strand is just one among many. In her script, Fernández deftly weaves together multiple storylines involving the romantic lives of Andrea's Latina friends with whom she shares drinks at Luminarias. They include Lilly (Ángela Moya), an artist who has fallen in love with a Korean American (Andrew C. Lim), whose parents do not approve; Irene (Dyana Ortelli), who is battling temptation while attempting to stay celibate during lent; and Sofia (Marta DuBois), a successful therapist who has spent her whole life trying to fit in with "whites," and is now distraught that she is falling in love with a waiter at Luminarias. The irony of the women's lives is that they become romantically involved with someone completely unexpected. The message is that you can't seek love; rather, love finds you.
In writing Luminarias, one of Fernández's goals was to tackle and dismantle Latino stereotypes that plague most movies. She is successful in that she focuses on professionals who also have strong cultural ties. In fact, much of the tension in the characters' relationships is linked to the confusion over where they belong: in the "white" business world or in East Los Angeles with their families. This is most daunting for Sofia, who drives a white Mercedes (interesting color choice) and dyes her hair red in an attempt to distance herself from the heritage she knows will always be a part of her.
While dismantling them, Fernández has some fun with the stereotypes. In a scene depicting a family get-together, she swaps expected cliches in showing Andrea's brother, a gangland-type with sunglasses and a long goatee played by Cheech Marin, is actually a professor at UCLA. When Joseph asks Andrea what part of Mexico she is from, her response is, "East L.A." Fernández does not pretend that the Latino community does not have its problems, racial or otherwise. However, she doesn't focus on the problems, and when they are presented, they are presented as human dilemmas that are not reducible to any one social group.
Luminarias is most effective when dealing with Andrea and Joseph's complicated relationship. Their scenes together are often very funny, and Fernández and Bakula create a believable romance. That it gets tied up neatly in the end is not particularly surprising. While the main goal of Luminarias is to portray the Latino community in an even light, it is also a conventional romantic melodrama, with all the expected plot twists and complications. It is satisfying on that emotional narrative level, but it is even more satisfying in the way it depicts a large segment of the American population in a way that other movies have not.
Copyright ©2000 James Kendrick