There haven’t been too many people who died at age 17 who have warranted the biopic treatment, but 1950s rock ‘n’ roller Ritchie Valens proves a worthy exception in La Bamba.
Known primarily for his three top-10 tunes, Come On Let’s Go, Donna and the title cut, Valens was killed – just eight months after signing his first recording contract – in the 1959 private plane crash that also took the lives of Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper, and thus attained instant legendhood.
For anyone to achieve his dreams by 17 is close to miraculous. It was even more so for Valens who, less than two years before his death, was a Mexican-American fruitpicker named Ricardo Valenzuela living in a tent with his family in Northern California.
La Bamba is engrossing throughout and boasts numerous fine performances. In Lou Diamond Phillips’ sympathetic turn, Valens comes across as a very fine young man, caring for those important to him and not overawed by his success. Rosana De Soto scores as his tireless mother, and Elizabeth Pena has numerous dramatic moments as Bob’s distraught mate.