Reviewed By Thom
Posted 06/29/01 05:24:40

"A passionate teen romance that is breaking todas las reglas"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

A teen romance that knowingly plays the inter-racial card. The buzz around this film was all about Kirsten Dunst's nixed nude sex scene and if you go see a movie just to see naked breasts, well, Bless You, but there is more to see. Thanks perhaps in part to the success of Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez as "crossover" artists, we now have a teen film with a more accurate portrayal of Latino culture and Spanish dialogue with no subtitles. It looks like someone figured out that Hispanic-Americans have some disposable income and Latino actors may start to see a wider range of roles offered to them.

Kirsten Dunst plays Nicole, a hard-edged teen whose father is a state representative. She meets and falls in love with Carlos, played by Jay Hernandez (oh my god, he has the most kissable lips). Instead of being the rich white girl meets boy from wrong side of the social spectrum tale, it turns into a story about driven, intelligent, hardworking Carlos who meets the hardly approved of artistic and sensitive drunk, Nicole. In order to maintain their freedom to choose what they want to do and whom they want to love they must stand side by side and fight the world together. It's the myth that every teenager lives by.

Nicole has problems. Her stepmother doesn't like her and her father doesn't know what to do with her. She's failing school, has no plans for the future and is happiest when she is wasted.

Carlos has own concerns. He has to work hard to "make something of himself". In a Latino Good Will Hunting moment, Carlos' brothers tells him "You owe it to all of us to do something with what you've got". Carlos wants to be a pilot. He studies hard and he respects his family. He's your typical good son while Nicole is your typical bad daughter.

Carlos' mother (played entirely in Spanish by Soledad St.Hilaire) thinks that Nicole will be bad for her son and we get the idea that she would prefer it if he dated a nice Mexican girl. If you don't speak any Spanish at all you might miss this. Nicole's father wants Carlos to stay away from his daughter because she is "very destructive" and doesn't want Carlos to get off track because of her. But Carlos likes Nicole because she is crazy and Nicole likes Carlos because he is beautiful. All this social disapproval causes all sorts of grief for Nicole and Carlos who do what you'd expect and don't listen to anyone but themselves. Teenagers will love how they decide, just on the verge of that all-important moment in American life, High School Graduation, that nothing, not your dreams, not what you've been working towards, nothing, is more important than being with the person you love. Wouldn't it be great if love could save you from having to be an adult?

Culture clash is a subtext in this film. There are several scenes where white suburbanites act on what they think Hispanic culture or "ghetto culture" is supposed to be like in a genuine effort to communicate with the alien species and they find out that the MTv version of reality is far from the mark. That was pretty sneaky, tossing in some social enlightenment like that instead of going the other route and packaging the studio version of ghetto culture for a white audience.

Nicole's best friend Maddy takes an unfortunate back seat. Taryn Manning gives a great performance as the rebel girl who is not as fucked up as Nicole but is like most teen age rebel girls on the loose. She's got her concerns and she takes good care of her friend but the moment that the story begins to focus on Maddy, Nicole runs off when she sees Carlos. Sorry Maddy, but this is not about you. Maddy does get some good lines and she was a great complement to Nicole. They were almost twins, not just in spirit but in looks and style.

What I like best about this film is that Hay and Manfredi and director, John Stockwell, really took the time to show authentic Angeleno Latino culture. You get to see a Quincinera (the "sweet fifteen" party that is as big a deal as first communion or your wedding day), parts of Los Angeles that in any other film would be the stage for drive by shootings, crack deals and FIVE OH, and an abuelita (little grandmother) who lives in a part of the kitchen and wanders around the house in her nightshirt.

Crazy/Beautiful is a fairly predictable teen romance but like any genre movie, it's not the story but the characters that make the difference. I liked Nicole and Carlos and I'm a sucker for a romance no matter how stupid it is. It's also a realistic correction of attitudes that whites and Latinos may have of each other in Los Angeles. Maddy teases Nicole by telling her "You think you are down because you once scored in Pico". Nicole replies that she scored twice and they both laugh. They know where they stand culturally but they are also above it all. They, like Carlos, aren't trying to be anything other than themselves. That's a good message for teens.

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