Luminarias (review)

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Based on Evelina Fernández’s hit stage play, Luminarias is most notable for the characters playing out its sometimes sitcomish plot: professional Latina women. Sick of being cast as a maid or mother of a gangbanger, Fernández, along with director Jose Luis Valenzuela (her husband) and actor/producer Sal Lopez, raised the $1 million budget from California’s Latino community — Fernández wasn’t the only one tired of Hollywood stereotypes. Complex and well-rounded, her women are an engaging bunch to spend some time with as they gather at Luminarias, their favorite nightspot, to talk about love, life, and the difficulties of social navigation in a city as racially diverse as Los Angeles. Call it Sex in the City of Angels. Lawyer Andrea (Fernández) is divorcing cheating Joe (Robert Beltran: Trekkies) and unexpectedly falling for a Jewish colleague, Joseph (Scott Bakula: American Beauty), forcing her to confront her racism toward whites. Therapist Sofia (Marta DuBois) dates only whites, but suddenly finds herself in an affair with Pablo (Lopez), who barely speaks English, forcing her to confront her anxiety about her own culture. Designer Irene’s (Dyana Ortelli) plan to give up sex for Lent is proving more difficult than she thought. And artist Lilly (Ángela Moya), never romantically stable, settles down at last with Korean-American Lu (Andrew C. Lim), which rattles his parents. There may be too much crammed in here — infidelity, domestic violence, racism, sexism, cultural identity, and love and sex are a lot of ground to cover in a single film, and Luminarias too often relies on coincidence and cliché to keep things moving. And yet it’s wonderful to see adult women — of any ethnicity — portrayed so positively onscreen.

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