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Waiting to Inhale: Scott Bakula risks a lungful of secondhand smoke in order to get close to Evelina Fernandez in 'Luminarias.'

Dishing It Out

The four heroines of 'Luminarias' have some bones to pick with men

By Richard von Busack

FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE, Luminarias counts as the first film centered and based on Latina women, their Waiting to Exhale. The film's weaknesses are more frustrating for the occasional glimpses of moments that seem real and heartfelt in the lives of four mature L.A. Chicanas, who meet to drink and dish it out at the fancy Luminarias restaurant. Irene (Dyana Ortelli) is the crazy, sexy one who dresses like a stripper and has foolishly promised to give up sex for Lent. Lilly (Angela Moya) is an artist who falls in love too much. Sophia (Marta Du Bois) is a psychiatrist out of touch with her East L.A. roots. Last, but most important to the plot, is Andrea (Evelina Fernandez, who wrote the screenplay, based on her play), a lawyer who is newly separated after catching her husband, Joe (Robert Beltran), necking with his blonde girlfriend at their wedding anniversary party.

Luminarias shows how these women learn to open their minds a little, which means enduring early scenes of the quartet cawing over the limp pink dicks of white guys and describing all white women as sluts. We're supposed to be charmed by their frankness, but the scene seems to be saying, "What man wouldn't be fascinated by a pack of bitter middle-aged shrews like us?" Later, the extreme positions of the women mellow. Andrea, who rages about white prejudice, ends up in love with a Jewish lawyer (Scott Bakula) who happens to be representing the ex-husband of Andrea's client in a bitter custody battle. Sophia meets and falls for a man she refers to as a mojado (wetback) straight out of Sinaloa. And one of Lilly's choices leads her to the verge of heartbreak.

At an East L.A. backyard party scene, Luminarias improves. The daylight takes us away from the icy scenes of wealth (our four heroines are "positive role models," i.e., they're rich). The backyard party offers a range of classes, ages and types--it's more rainbow-y, you see. In the crowd are Angelina Estrada and Lupe Ontiveros (last seen as Jack Nicholson's maid in As Good as It Gets), delightful as a pair of flirtatious old aunts. At one table, with a beer, a goat beard, dark shades and a tattooed neck, sits the archpocho himself, Cheech Marin, who imparts some calming advice to Andrea's upset son. The moments with Marin make up for the undigested blocks of characterization, including one woman yelling, "My sister drinks too much, and my nephew's a gang member, and my mother takes Prozac." I know that this awkward little feature will be remembered as one of the first of a wave of films for and by Latina women. As it stands, though, the clunky writing and overloud acting provide more to apologize for than to praise.


Luminarias (R; 100 min.), directed by José Luis Valenzuela, written by Evelina Fernandez, based on her play, photographed by Alex Phillips and starring Evelina Fernandez, Marta Du Bois, Dyana Ortelli and Scott Bakula, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose, Century Capitol 16 in San Jose and AMC Saratoga 14 in Saratoga.

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From the May 4-10, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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