SELENA (1997) ***1/2
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Edward James Olmos, Jon Seda, Constance Marie, and Jacob Vargas Written and directed by Gregory Nava 127 minutes Rated PG (for mild language and sensuality)
By Blake French:
I am not a fan of Selena Quintanilla, and I still loved Gregory Nava's "Selena." It was a respectable movie on its own level; the film would have worked even if there never was a professional celebrity singer of the same name. It's filled with inspiring style and lovely glamour. This is one of the better biography movies to come down the road in some time.
The film stars the talented Jennifer Lopez as the famous singer in the title roll. The development of her character is what makes the production so effective. In biographies, we need as much information as possible about the person in focus as possible, and "Selena" starts at her childhood. She is one of the many in the Quintanilla family: the father, Abraham, the mother, Marcela, and the siblings, Abie, Suzette, and of course Selena. Abraham involves the kids with music very early in their lives. After hearing his daughter's voice talents, how could he resist. Some days, the kids did not want to practice their instruments and music abilities, but discipline is what makes things work.
The film begins an emotional journey into the life of the Quintanilla's. Abraham's long awaited dream of opening his independent Spanish restaurant has come true. His children are the entertainment. Although much to his wife's dismay, he soon quits his current occupation to manage his new restaurant full time. Again, a big success, for the first few months, anyway. Before long, however, the restaurant is bankrupt and his family is forced to close it down--leaving them no where to go, except to sell their happy little house and buy a motor home for the family to live in.
Selena's father becomes the antagonist--being forceful, controlling and difficult. He is the one who objects to the family's ideas. Abraham is the man who will never allow his daughter to get married. He is the person who cares so much about his family, that sometimes he thinks that they can't do anything right.
The development of the Quintanilla family is perfect. Selena, although the centerpiece of the plot, is jumbled in the family atmosphere with little significance above the rest of the members in her household. This concept makes the biography believable and heartfelt. The only problem I had with these folks is the old, reused idea of having the strict father as the villain for most of the movie. We have seen this concept so many times before, and while it does, as always, add some tension in the story line, the film never gets anywhere with the theme, and throughout the picture, Abraham has varied in character mood--lacking consistency.
Jennifer Lopez is so much better playing a character like Selena Quintanilla than some of the varied characters she has been in the past. In particular, the dreadful "U-Turn" and "Anaconda" characters did not fit her personality in the least. Selena is the character who she was born to star as, and what a wonderful, inspiring job she does. I cared about these characters, and if not for the performances it may have been another story.
The movie offers a touching romantic subplot--that also happens to be bull-headed and stubborn. The audience doesn't mind this flawed story, however simply because it is propelled by the performances and enchanting romantic chemistry. There are lots of emotions flying around in the film, but even that doesn't hold it back from becoming a clear, accurate-looking piece of work.
"Selena" is a biography worth seeing and then some. Featured are adorable characters, exquisite performances, a believable and historical plot line, and a lot of irresistible idyllic chemistry. However, at the same time, suffers from too many emotional distractions and conventional clichés. The film could have been better...but it didn't necessarily need at be.
Brought to you by Warner Bros.
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