Saturday, December 30, 2006

[1981] ZOOT SUIT: This was very much on the mediocre side of things, not awful but too flat to be good. Somehow Luis Valdez ended up directing the movie version of his play Zoot Suit about the Sleepy Lagoon trial (which was botched and biased and resulted in the imprisonment of several Mexican-American youths, who were freed within a year and a half.) And it's like he couldn't figure out how to make it a movie, so he threw his hands up and said "fuck it--I'm just going to film the play." And he pretty much literally did that, right down to including an audience which he goes to for reaction shots on occasion, and at one points lets the action of the play spill into it. It seemed like purposeless fourth wall-breaking to me. Maybe it happened in the actual play as well and Valdez felt like he had to leave it in? But up on the screen it just served as another reminder that what we're watching is a filmed play. The play itself isn't too bad--it focuses on Henry Reyna (Daniel Valdez), who's one of the defendants and has Edward James Olmos' idealized pachuco character living in his head and egging him on to bad decisions and an embrace of cynicism. Olmos' character is all the things Reyna thinks he wants to be, and the substance of the play is Reyna wrestling with how much he wants to become like the glowering, mean, zoot-suit-cool Olmos. So it's basically a smallish character study set during a period of actual social injustice (the trial in 1940s Los Angeles) and the social justice stuff frequently smothers the character stuff, muting the impact of both. Yeah--the play is passable enough, but as a movie it's got no reason to exist.

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