Corny but good-hearted, “My Family/Mi Familia” is a sweeping picture-book portrait of the growth of the Latino community in L.A. as represented by the large Sanchez clan. Colorfully melodramatic, shamelessly predictable and generous inspirit, Gregory Nava’s ambitious historical saga will please critics and arthouse viewers less than more general audiences, who likely will be drawn in by the multitude of soap opera-ish calamities, family gatherings, fateful decisions, emotional farewells and reunions and life-affirming philosophy. Latino viewers should turn out in substantial numbers and crossover potential looks good for this New Line release.
A fine cast ably embodies two significant generations of the Sanchez family, which is presented as typically representing a cross-section of people who came from Mexico to Southern California decades ago in search of greater opportunity and have found the experience a mixed but ultimately rewarding process.
Narrated fulsomely by Edward James Olmos as a writer living in present-day Los Angeles, tale begins in Mexico during revolutionary times. Jose Sanchez (played first by Jacob Vargas, later by Eduardo Lopez Rojas) decides the grass looks greener to the north and takes a year making his way to East L.A.
In short order, Jose marries the lovely Maria (Jennifer Lopez, Jenny Gago) and they have two daughters. Then, during the depths of the Depression, INS authorities sweep through the Latino community rounding up illegals and citizens alike and send them back to Mexico. Unfortunately, the pregnant Maria is caught up in this net, which spurs a major sequence straight out of a silent melodrama.
Maria, babe in arms, courageously marches back toward the United States. She takes a rickety raft across a turbulent river and is swept away by the current. Maria and the infant look like goners, but providence is looking out for them, occasioning their miraculous survival and a gushing family reunion in L.A.
Little Chucho, however, grows into one “bad pachuco,” the troublemaker of the family. At the 25-minute point, pic jumps ahead to the late ’50s.
After this 35-minute chapter, film leaps ahead another 20 years. Jimmy (Jimmy Smits) is now an angry young man just released from prison, while nun Toni (Constance Marie) returns from Central America to shock her parents with the news that she has left her order and has married a former priest (Scott Bakula), who also happens to be a gringo.
Through it all, Jose and Maria, with their heritage grounded in the old country, remain conscious of their roots, while the kids run off in all directions.
Tale is recounted in broad strokes, bright colors and with a great heart, which puts it over.
Nava, lenser Edward Lachman, production designer Barry Robison and costume designer Tracy Tynan have collaborated to give the film an exceedingly rich, tapestrylike look.
Performances are fine and writ large.