Latino rockabillies! Street art! Love triangles! Paisa bars! If I were marketing Alberto Barboza's Cry Now, I'd flash these main elements from the film as if it were a 1950s American International Pictures rock & roll production. Set in the heavily Latino east Los Angeles—most notably Boyle Heights and Echo Park—Cry Now perfectly encapsulates the energy and vibrancy of these locations and the youth cultures that inhabit it like a Roger Corman-produced teen-delinquent flick from six decades ago, only filtered through a contemporary, hipster Chicano lens.
As Barboza's debut film, Cry Now is a story about love and artistic passion, with all the major signifiers of Latino culture and subcultures that permeate LA: street art and murals, some provided by famed artist El Mac; the Latina rockabilly aesthetic, which combines chola and classic pinup styles; the inclusion of real Mexican slang and dialect in the dialogue—something that almost never happens in Latino cinema; backyard parties, either played up with norteño groups (ajua!) or rock music; and the eclecticism of these worlds coexisting, in danger of being lost thanks to the ongoing gentrification battles in the areas.
The star-crossed lovers at the corazon of this film are Vincent (Miguel Angel Caballero, a striking Mexican James Franco look alike if there ever was one) and Luzy (the fetching Iliana Carter). Vincent is a messenger boy by day and graphic street artist craving inspiration by night. His creative production thus far has been screenprinting ominous posters with the slogan, "Cry Now"—a riff on the cholo saying "Smile now, cry later." The police try to catch Vincent in the act of hanging posters, but he evades them by crashing a backyard party. There, he meets Luzy, a tattoo artist. They dance and have a chat about art and inspiration until they're interrupted by Luzy's policeman boyfriend, Pete (Rick Quintero). Vincent's ex-girlfriend Sofia (Mina Olivera) also comes back into his life, effectively working to thwart his chances with Luzy and to seek vengeance for being dumped unceremoniously.
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As much as I love this film for representing Southern California Latinos so well and real, Cry Now runs a little too close to one of the main problems of youth-culture flicks: a focus on style over substance. Vincent and Luzy's attraction and romance develops way too quickly, before we even know who these characters are. As a result, their chemistry feels a little tacked-on and forced, as does Luzy's relationship with Pete. The only real reason we know why Luzy feels devoted to Pete is because he shilled out a whopping $20,000 to help her open her own tattoo parlor. And while we know that Vincent is an artist with a socio-political bent to his work with a bold-lined, graphic-illustration technique, there's hardly anything to know about Luzy—hell, we don't even know her tattoo aesthetic. Surely, there must have been an East LA-born-and-raised Xicana tattooer who would've been down to lend a sheet of flash for this film.
Cry Now took years to make, as the filmmaking team needed time to raise funds and shoot, raise funds and shoot again. So it's impressive that Barboza was able to bring in editor Luis Carballar, who worked on the Ariel Award-winning Amores Perros and Cary Fukunaga's Sin Nombre. Sal Lopez (previously seen in Selena, Born In East LA, Zoot Suit and American Me) plays Lobo, a norteño musician whom Vincent befriends, and amplifies his scenes with a naturalism that only a veteran actor of his level can deliver. And how can I not marvel at the always-wonderful Lupe Ontiveros, who plays Lobo's sister Rosario in her last film appearance? Known to wider audiences as Yolanda Saldivar in Selena, Ontiveros shines as an elderly, wise counsel to Vincent and provides an extra layer of soul to the film. For the limited screen time she gets, Ontiveros' warmth looms large.
Naturally, as a Latina from Southern California, I'm game for any film that aims to immerse the viewer in my world, as well as, I'm sure, that of the parties involved in making it—including artist El Mac; the cast; and the bands Very Be Careful, Irene Diaz, the Delirians and Hermanos Herrera, all of whom provided music and/or perform in the film. Barboza and his budding production team Cinetico Productions clearly have the knowledge to show what makes East LA so unique; I'm curious to see what other stories the writer/director is hoping to bring.
Cry Now was written and directed by Alberto Barboza; and stars Miguel Angel Caballero, Iliana Carter and Mina Olivera. Screens at the Frida Cinema, 305 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 285-9422; thefridacinema.org. Sun., 11:30 a.m., 2, 4 & 7 p.m. $7-$10.