We gave it a C-
Successful independent filmmakers inevitably face a dilemma: Should they let themselves be seduced by Hollywood, or should they remain true to the caprices of their own creativity? Allison Anders is the rare writer-director with the spirit to do both at once. Her lovely, low-budget Gas Food Lodging (1992) had many of the virtues of the best American independent features: a funky visual sense, an emotional intimacy that too often eludes mainstream filmmakers. Yet this feminist coming-of-age drama wasn’t scared to reveal its tender, plaintive heart. In many ways, it was a more romantic Hollywood movie than Hollywood usually makes.
It appears that Anders doesn’t trust her own populist instincts. Her new film, Mi Vida Loca/My Crazy Life, is an act of perverse defiance, a tale of teenage Latina gang girls in L.A.’s Echo Park that seems almost calculated to be as aimless and scrappy as its strutting homegirl heroines. From its perky opening frames, the movie is infatuated with the iconography of inner-city Hispanic youth: the tattoos and hairnets, the girls in shellacked lipstick calling each other ”Bitch!” (the movie’s patron saint might be Rosie Perez), a car hood spray-painted with the image of a gaudy vamp. Yet apart from these vibrant neighborhood trappings, Mi Vida Loca is shapeless and inert. Anders organizes her ensemble cast into three loose episodes (calling them ”stories” would be stretching it), but the dramatic fragments keep breaking off into further fragments. The movie isn’t just anecdotal — it isn’t quite there. When Sad Girl (Angel Aviles), one of the heroines, betrays her childhood buddy (Seidy Lopez) by having an affair with the buddy’s drug-dealer boyfriend (Jacob Vargas), Anders never even stops to ask why. She offers the narrative equivalent of a shrug, as if to say, ”Hey, folks, that’s life in the barrio.” But it’s the film — not the barrio — that’s stuck on the surface. The Anders who made Gas Food Lodging knew how to zoom in on the hearts and minds of her characters. In Mi Vida Loca, she pushes an already marginalized culture even further into the margins. C-