(2009) Drama (Screen Media Ventures) Benjamin Bratt, Erika Alexander, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Jesse Borrego, Talisa Soto Bratt, Tina Huang, Kevin Michael Richardson, Tatiana Rivas, Cesar Gomez, Neo Veavea, Cathleen Ridley, Max Rosenak. Directed by Peter Bratt
When it comes down to it, pride can be the defining force of a man. Pride is what makes him walk tall, gives him the sense that he is king of all he surveys. Pride can also kill the things he loves most.
Che Rivera (B. Bratt) is one of the cornerstones of his neighborhood in the San Francisco Mission District. He is an ex-con and recovering alcoholic who drives a local bus and in his spare time, details lowrider cars. He is respected and maybe a little bit feared as well. His swagger has caught the attention of Lena (Alexander), a new neighborhood and not in a good way. However as she gets to know Che better, her attitude changes (as does his towards her) and a tentative, awkward romance develops.
His world is his son Jesse (Valdez) who is a straight-A student with a scholarship to UCLA in the offing. Jesse has indeed made his father proud but has a secret – he’s gay. When Che discovers pictures of Jesse and his lover Jordan (Rosenak) in an – ahem – compromising position, Che goes ballistic. He throws his son out of the house and engages in a beatdown that alerts the neighborhood to Jesse’s sexual tendencies.
This shocks and horrifies Lena, who knows men like this through her job. The anger and rage that bubbles just below the surface and erupts into violence that could well one day be directed at her. The homophobia of Che also doesn’t fit well in her ideal. While this is going on, Jesse is undergoing trials of his own. The Latino community, heavily vested in machismo, doesn’t take kindly to gay men and he is harassed – sometimes violently – which Che is very well aware of. Gay or not, he is still his son but can Che find a way past his own pride, past his own cultural prejudices to bridge the gap with his son – and his girlfriend?
This is very much a love story but not between Lena and Che so much or even between Jesse and Jordan but between director Bratt and this neighborhood. The genuine affection and understanding for the culture is exuded palpably throughout the movie. The camaraderie between neighborhood homeboys is organic and even if the dialogue is sometimes clumsy, the feelings between the lines are not.
Benjamin Bratt made a name for himself on the original “Law and Order” series, and has since developed into a fine actor in his own right. Here he captures both the inner rage of Che, the conflict between his heritage and the love for his son but also his natural affability and charm. If you were part of the neighborhood, no doubt you’d be looking up to this man; he is generous with his friends and that friendship isn’t given easily.
Alexander, who was a cousin on “The Cosby Show”, is beautiful still as she was a decade ago in her TV days. She also “gets” the mentality of a Bay Area citizen with all that implies – the liberal mindset and the inclusive behavior. Having lived there for nearly two decades, I have known hundreds of people just like her there; not saints so much as they are passionate in their beliefs. She makes a fine counterpoint to Che’s macho ways.
There is an authenticity here that has been lauded by Latin critics as well as honesty in the depiction of the rejection of the gay son that the gay community knows all too well. There is a dignity here that is augmented by genuine warmth that even though not every aspect of the neighborhood is beautiful, it at least fees like home.
Love may not conquer all but it is a sure route to overcoming anything. The message of La Mission is not always clearly stated, but seems to be genuinely felt and in an era where moviegoers are often hammered over the head with platitudes that seem to be added to movies out of a need to have some sort of moral center, is a refreshing change of pace. It ain’t perfect, but it’s home.
WHY RENT THIS: An authentic look at the neighborhood, its multi-ethnic culture and specifically the Hispanic lowrider culture.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending takes a little long to arrive. The dialogue is a bit clumsy at times.
FAMILY VALUES: The language is pretty rough here; there’s also some violence and a bit of sexuality as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The star and the director are brothers and both grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the soundtrack of the film that gives insight not only into the process of selecting the music but the exacting standards that were used in getting the music of the neighborhood right.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.1M on an unreported production budget; the movie probably broke even or maybe even made a few bucks.
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10