By Jack Rico
The 1-4-0: Ricardo de Montreuil’s #Lowriders leaves the clichéd gang and drug storylines to the side and focuses on creating characters true to life through the lens of the rich culture of East LA.
The Gist: Set in East LA’s lowrider culture, the film follows the story of a kid named Danny (Gabriel Chavarria) with aspirations of becoming an artist, but who is put in a tough family situation when he has to choose between his father (Demián Bichir) or criminal brother (Theo Rossi).
What Works: de Montreuil has a knack for casting. He selected a terrific balance of veteran and young actors which resulted in one of the hallmark qualities of the film. On the veteran side, Demián Bichir carries his Oscar nomination into his patriarchal role, while the unrestrained and free-spirited young cast of Gabriel Chavarria, Yvette Monreal, et.al, gave a glimpse of what stardom will look like for them in the next 5 years.
On a personal note and as an Hispanic-American film critic, it is extremely important for me to see films presenting fellow Hispanics outside of the immigrant bubble or those constantly struggling to make ends meet. Though that might be the experience for many, it’s not for all. In Lowriders, screenwriters Cheo Hodari Coker and Elgin James allow Latinos to not know how to speak Spanish, date outside of their race and have fancy ambitions to be an artist. These characteristics, usually not depicted in Hollywood films, resonate immensely to a sizable population of US Latinos looking to see themselves belonging in the American firmament. It makes a difference and Lowriders is a template to which all films with Hispanic storylines should strive to be. Think of Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s Tony winning musical In The Heights, where Latino culture, American values and Broadway history collided harmoniously to create a unique and singular experience that changed the way Hispanics saw themselves in the larger scope of American life. Director Ricardo de Montreuil, who is Peruvian and who lives in LA, understands this desire to belong and it is the undercurrent that audiences will subconsciously be drawn to.
What Doesn’t Work: Its biggest challenge will be to attract a larger audience outside of the urban demographic, but with positive word of mouth, it should achieve a wide rollout next week.
Pay or Nay: Pay. Lowriders has a heart, seen evidently by the writing and performances. It is not about gangs or drugs, it is about family, legacy, love and art. These themes bring out the best in the characters and are the key connecting points between the story and the audience. If you decide to see it, know that Lowriders is not a white man’s version of Hispanic life, it’s a Hispanic’s version of American life in East LA.