Monapily’s Millieu: La Mission – Film Review

By Ramona Pilar Gonzales

Monapily Reviews: La Mission (dir. Peter Bratt; starring Benjamin Bratt, Jeremy Ray Valdez)

Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly said that the storytelling of La Mission, the new film by Peter Bratt starring Benjamin Bratt, “cliché,” a gave the film a “C+”, mildly indicating that it was because it was a “labor of love.”

Melissa Anderson of the LA Weekly says the film “strains to be both a thoughtful tale…” and a “…critique of outmoded…customs in Latino culture.”

Both reviewers expressed a sense of dissatisfaction with a storyline they understood to be redundant in the sense of “we’ve seen this story before.”  Really? 

They have seen the story of a veterano ex-convict widower raising his a son by himself?  They have seen a film that shows what it might be like as a Latino father to discover that their son is gay?  They  have screened countless films with Latino protagonists that…do anything?  I, myself, have not had this privilege.

La Mission is the second collaboration by brothers Peter and Benjamin Bratt and their first theatrical release.   The film follows Che Rivera (Bratt) through his life in San Francisco’s predominantly Latino Mission District.  Che is a Muni bus driver, recovering alcoholic and single father to his UCLA bound son Jesse (played by Jeremy Ray Valdez).  Che discovers his son is gay and it unearths a well of fear, rage and confusion that tests his faith, his sobriety and his love for his son.

The topics addressed in the film – homophobia, gentrification, generational conflict, and neighborhood and domestic violence – aren’t particularly groundbreaking in mainstream society.  Yet Latino characters are rarely protagonists in mainstream films.  They don’t have arcs and are usually relegated to playing background or bit characters: maids, gardeners, gang members, pregnant-teenaged-drug addicts or any variation thereof.

The men in this film are a range of blue collar working class men to business owners.  Che’s brother, Rene (played impeccably by Jesse Borrego) owns the auto body shop where the men work on the low-riders they take out cruising every weekend.  The young men – Jesse, his friend Gummy Bear, and the neighbor kid Little Man – are a departure from the staid characterization of young “gang bangers.”  They’re proof that even “good”, college-bound kids dress in baggy clothes.  Even Che’s neighbor Lena (a beautifully dynamic Erika Alexander) is outside the realm of caricature of the “angry black woman” as an organic baking, tea drinking, Kali reverent, new arrival in the Che’s building.

The film hit the festival circuit in 2009 and received very few offers of distribution.  The ones they did get would have seen the film release in only a handful of theaters.  Which is why 5 Stick Productions (the company formed by the Brothers Bratt and their producing partner Alpita Patel) decided to distribute the film themselves.  With the help of Global Cinema Distribution, the film will be released in 25 theaters nationwide by April 23, 2010. 

Without a major distributor, the film’s trailer has not had the advantage of the kind of exposure as Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married, Too?.  As such, La Mission has taken advantage of the word-of-mouth buzz that can be generated through the internet and social networking sites.  Benjamin Bratt and Producer Alpita Patel conducted Q & A sessions following screenings in Los Angeles while Peter Bratt has taken to the East Coast.

Critics like Ms. Schwarzbaum and Ms. Anderson may not be able to see the value in a film like La Mission or the characters portrayed in the film and that’s okay. Ultimately, it’s not really about them.

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