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My Family Movie Review

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I first became aware of filmmakers Anna Thomas and Gregory Nava in 1981 when I saw Thomas’ The Haunting of M, a Scottish ghost story starring Shelagh Gilbey as Marianna and Nina Pitt as her sister. I haven't been able to get the film out of my head, although sadly, I've never been able to find it on cable or video. The idea then was that Thomas and Nava would alternate as writers and directors. The following year, they both wrote End of August, which IS on video, but not in my neck of the woods. I'd like to see it if only to compare it with 1992's Grand Isle, since they're both based on Kate Chopin's The Awakening. El Norte was their breakthrough film (which Nava directed), then came (yuck) A Time of Destiny (which Nava directed) and THEN came My Family (which Nava directed). My question is: when am I going to see a movie by Anna Thomas, reflecting HER experiences and HER interests? Yes, she's been a screenwriter on all of the above movies, but The Haunting of M had a look and feel quite different from any of the projects she's worked on since. My Family is a good, well-acted, multi-generational saga, but the emphasis is on the patriarchal, rather than the matriarchal line of the Sanchez family. First we see Jose (Jacob Vargas, Eduardo Lopez Rojas), then we see Jose's son Chucho (Esai Morales), then we see Jose's younger son Jimmy (Jonathan Hernandez, Jimmy Smits), then we see yet another son, Memo (Enrique Castillo), and so on…. Their trials and tribulations dominate the 126-minute running time. AND it's narrated by a writer named Paco (Edward James Olmos). Who are the women in this story? There's Jose's wife Maria (Jennifer Lopez, Jenny Gago), who has six kids. There's daughter Irene (Maria Canals, Lupe Ontiveros), who gets married and runs a restaurant, and daughter Toni (Constance Marie), who becomes a nun and a political activist. There's Jimmy's wife Isabel (Edpidio Carillo) who has his son. But the only moments of any real drama in their lives occur when Maria and baby Chucho survive the river rapids on a raft, and when Toni protects Isabel from the death squads of El Salvador. Otherwise, whether the Sanchez boys are good or bad, the story line remains focused on THEM and the melodramatic twists and turns of THEIR lives. In that respect, My Family is evocative of the long-running radio soap opera One Man's Family, which ran for 27 years. (PLEASE direct another movie, Ms. Thomas!) AKA: Mi Familia.

1994 (R) 126m/C Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales, Eduardo Lopez Rojas, Jenny Gago, Elpidia Carrillo, Lupe Ontiveros, Jacob Vargas, Jennifer Lopez, Scott Bakula, Edward James Olmos, Michael De Lorenzo, Maria Canals, Leon Singer, Jonathan Hernandez, Constance Marie, Enrique Castillo, Mary Steenburgen; D: Gregory Nava; W: Gregory Nava, Anna Thomas; C: Edward Lachman; M: Pepe Avila, Mark McKenzie. Nominations: Academy Awards ‘95: Best Makeup; Independent Spirit Awards ‘96: Best Actor (Smits), Best Supporting Actress (Lopez). VHS, LV, Closed Caption

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