Review: ‘East Side Story’

Billed as a satirical reworking of "West Side Story," Carlos Portugal's "East Side Story" actually suggests a more conventional dramedy spin on last year's indie gem "Quinceanera."

Billed as a satirical reworking of “West Side Story,” Carlos Portugal’s “East Side Story” actually suggests a more conventional dramedy spin on last year’s indie gem “Quinceanera.” It’s an enjoyable mix of sexy gay romance, family drama, broader comedic elements and race/class conflict — dealing, like the prior film, with longtime Latino residents facing a gay white-house buying influx in East Los Angeles.Limited theatrical dates are possible, though pic’s strengths and limitations seem best suited to small-screen exposure after running the gay fest circuit.

Diego Campos (Rene Alvarado) is a 30-year-old tired of hiding his heavily fantasy/role-play-driven relationship with macho real estate agent Pablo (David Beron). But latter brushes off all requests for deeper engagement, insisting he’s really straight and going so far as to court Diego’s obnoxiously shallow glamazon aunt Bianca (Gladise Jiminez). She’s just returned from her latest Eurotrash misadventure to further drain the coffers of indulgent mummy Sara (Irene De Bari).

Sara is Diego’s grandma, and she hopes he’ll take over running the family’s traditional Mexican restaurant (actual eatery Tio Pepe is used as a primary location). But culinary academy-trained Diego yearns to prove himself in a more upscale setting — or perhaps to just escape the strangling environs of East L.A., where politically ambitious Pablo now hypocritically decries the “invasion” of gays.

Diego’s flight is slowed by the arrival of next-door-neighbors Wesley (Steve Callahan) and Jonathan (Cory Alan Schneider), a Caucasian gay couple. Wes and Diego strike immediate sparks, heightening Diego’s discontent with his current circumstances and nearly destroying the restaurant’s business among homophobic patrons.

Jonathan is dim, racist and mean, making it questionable why true-blue Wesley ever got past a one-night stand with him. Thus, it becomes all too predictable that Wes will eventually wake up to realize he is Diego’s Mr. Right, and vice versa. Ditto progress between misled, marriage-hungry Bianca and Pablo, who comes on like Don Juan but shrinks from her generously offered netherparts. Pic’s shrugging attitude toward cultural/economic gentrification and predictable character arcs deliver more glib satisfaction than the slow-burn nuances of the similarly themed “Quinceanera.”

Still, this is a seriocomedy with its heart (if a semi-formulaic one) in the right place. Perfs are as solid as written; package is competently pro, sparked by soundtrack’s solid assortment of Latino rock tunes.

East Side Story

Production

An Into Action Films production. Produced by Carlos Portugal, Mary Feuer, Nely Galan, Charo Toledo and Blanca Valdez. Executive producer, Richard Perez-Feria. Directed by Carlos Portugal. Screenplay, Portugal, Charo Toledo.

Crew

Camera (color, DV-to-Beta SP), Neil de la Pena; editor, Mary Feuer; music, Steven Cahill; music supervisor, Lisa Y. Garibay; production designer, Abbe Thorner; art director, Logan Prather; costume designer, Jerry Carnevale; sound designer, Cahill; assistant director, Lawrence Sara; casting, Blanca Valdez. Reviewed at San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, June 15, 2007. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Rene Alvarado, David Beron, Steve Callahan, Irene De Bari, Yelyna De Leon, Gladise Jiminez, Luis Raul, Cory Alan Schneider, Luis Accinelli.

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