Despite its allusions to Sophocles, Plato and Shakespeare, “Gabriela” is pure, undiluted soap. With hardly enough substance to carry a 30-minute TV episode, let alone a feature, this spindly love story has little more on its mind than the stress that comes from cheating on one’s fiance. With three credited editors, a 1998 copyright on the end credits and a wildly uneven look, tyro writer-director-producer Vincent Jay Miller’s pic shows signs of being fiddled with, but in the end, there’s no music. Being touted as a symbol of L.A. Latino film production, meller is much too weak to draw much of a theatrical crowd, and will soon be looking for dates in deep cable.
Intro quotes from Greek philosophers suggest a smart, informed film about love’s inherent conflicts, yet what unfolds is the softest possible drama, in which psychiatric hospital staffer Mike (Jaime P. Gomez) quickly goes dewy-eyed in the presence of intern therapist Gabriela (Seidy Gomez). Mike appears to be a confirmed bachelor, especially around his jesting co-worker Douglas (Troy Winbush, the latest case of a black male thesp cast as comic relief).
This being your basic soaper, Miller’s script has Gabriela engaged to workaholic lawyer Pat (Zach Galligan), who’s never seen actually working. Pic’s poor attention to character detail is especially notable in Gabriela’s case: While continually complaining that she’s overwhelmed with her hospital caseload and school work, we rarely see her dealing with clients and never see her cracking the books.
Instead, there’s an endless string of gauzy-shot scenes of her hanging out with Mike, supposedly on their lunch breaks. And though she finds herself rather easily straying into the arms of this new handsome and sensitive guy, her excuse is that she and Pat are “more like brother and sister than boyfriend and girlfriend,” even though this is never dramatized.
When Gabriela finally brings Mike back to her place, Pat shows up for the big confrontation. Mike won’t take this, um, lying down, and in a move of unintentionally comic desperation, actually pursues Gabriela to her familial Baja home in order to propose marriage.
Since character motivations couldn’t be murkier — Gabriela claims to be in a traditional arrangement with Pat, yet has been shacking up with him like any modern gal — the performances are a complete botch. Gomez and Lopez are pretty faces for the camera, but they put no brains or passion into their scenes.
Many familiar faces from Latino films and theater, including Lupe Ontiveros, Evelina Fernandez, Sal Lopez and Danny De La Paz, show up for brief, sometimes stereotypical cameos, then vanish. Most disappointingly for a Latino-made pic, depictions of South of the Border life are absurdly cliched, down to the requisite corrupt coppers.
Production values are undermined by an obviously limited budget, and even though an answer print was screened for review, neither costs nor lab work explain the extremely uneven photographic devices employed by lenser Adrian Rudomin. For the umpteenth time, a film score (this one by Craig Stuart Garfinkle) momentarily steals from classic Morricone.