Two Latino youths from different backgrounds form a life-changing friendship in the heartfelt coming-of-age film Mamitas. Director/writer Nicholas Ozeki expanded the storyline of his well-received 2007 short film into a feature film. The full-length Mamitas debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 22nd.
We’re not sure what to make of Jordin Juarez (E.J. Bonilla), a high school “playa” in Los Angeles. He’s constantly in trouble in the classroom and on the playground when we first meet him. Jordin is handsome and charismatic, but has no positive outlet for his energy. When strict but well-meaning teacher Miss Ruiz (Jennifer Esposito) gets him suspended, his week off turns into a journey of self-discovery. His new friend, Felipa Talia (Veronica Diaz-Carranza), an honor student, joins him in his quest.
The film deals with several intertwining family dramas. Felipa and Jordin forge a relationship in spite of, or perhaps because of, these intrigues. Jordin accidentally discovers some long-hidden secrets about his Mom, who died in childbirth. Felipa has her own issues: her mother has mysteriously vanished from her life. Originally from New York, she lives with her aunt, uncle and boy-crazy cousin Kika (Kimberly Burke) in Echo Park. The bookish Felipa seems nerdy, but she turns out to be quite feisty and confronts Jordin after what she perceives as a diss. Mamitas concentrates on Jordin and Felipa’s budding friendship and subtle flirtations at the beginning of the film, but there’s much more to the storyline than young love.
Felipa endures heartbreak caused by her M.I.A. Mom and deals with life as an educated misfit in a world of hip-hop music, thug wannabes and short-skirted party girls. A fight with Kika is at once funny and all too true as Felipa is driven to her breaking point by her cousin’s ongoing cattiness.
Mamitas integrates the L.A. Hispanic experience into the film’s fabric instead of presenting ethnicity as the focal point. All thhe touchpoints of life for a Latino teen in L.A. are here, though – the hip-hop party, the local slut, fights on the basketball court – and the obligatory lecture by the school counselor about going to college.
The cast, a combination of veteran character actors and young novices, work together flawlessly. Alex Fernandez, as Jordin’s widower father, Alvaro, works hard to give Jordin and his brother Hector (Jesse Garcia) a good life. But dealing with his rebellious younger son isn’t easy. Alvaro and Jordin remain emotionally estranged for much of the film.
Offhand appearances by writing teacher Alexander Viera (Joaquim de Almeida ) and Jordin’s rascally but wise grandfather “Tata” (Pedro Armendáriz Jr. ), add some colorful sidenotes to Jordin’s journey. There’s a distinct likeability and ease to the performances that make viewers identify with all of Mamitas‘ characters, from the main characters down to the supporting cast. Mamitas portrays the lives of L.A.’s Latino families from an inside perspective, not from the typical ousiders’ eyeview of drugs, gangs and other sensationalistic subjects.