You root for a movie like Benavides Born, and for about two thirds of its running time it doesn't disappoint. What starts out seeming like a Rocky redux about a middlewieight Latina weight lifter competing for an amateur athletics scholarship, quickly breaks the with the formula to become an unpredictable and frequently affecting portrait of economic desperation in the Texas panhandle. Thanks to Telumundo et al, the Mexican American community doesn't want for viewing options, which is probably the reason the US has yet to see a renaissance in Latin American thematics comparable to the Black New Wave of the 1990s, despite similarly favorable demographics. A short arthouse run may prove promising for this English language offering, but ultimately Benavides Born is Sundance Channel material, and partial evidence that director Amy Wendel and star Corina Calderon could be talents to watch.
Luz Garcia is a high school senior desperate to escape the close-knit, impoverished Latino community she grew up in. She has the grades to obtain a slot at the University of Texas in Austin, but she doesn't have the money. Her only hope is to win the one athletic scholarship available for the sport she excels in: female weightlifting, a highly competitive discipline. But stress and pressure begin to undermine Luz, and her roguish but charming boyfriend is a bad influence. As the state championship approaches, he offers to score her some performance enhancing drugs, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
As Luz, Calderon is effective at communicating the anguish, fatalism and anger of a gifted young woman trapped by circumstance, and her journey from optimist to fatalist and back again seems realistic and true. Writer-director Wendel and co-screenwriter Daniel Meisel do a convincing job of setting up a believable Latino milieu, dramatizing the generational differences in a series of humor-laced sequences involving Luz's superstitious grandmother, and contrasting Luz's ambitions against the complacency of the brother she lives with and the sister-in-law whose aspirations don't reach past pregnancy.
Unfortunately, what can only be explained as liberal wishful-thinking rears its plot-warping head in the final act, with Luz reversing a detailed downward spiral almost on a whim, and the world that had been against her quickly fixing her problems and helping her reclaim her dreams. For most of Benavides Born, Luz doesn't live in a world where prayers are answered, but one suspects director Wendel was frightened by the implications of her own story, and forced a hopeful ending so as not to reach the only logical destination Luz has steered towards—a life of lost chances and quiet despair.
The very thing that makes Benavides Born intermittently noteworthy is its specificity—the fact that it avoids the easy cant of making Luz overtly emblematic of the Mexican American predicament. But Benavides Born doesn't have the courage of its convictions in the final analysis. In the end, an irrepressible urge to transform Luz from a dimensional character into a role model asserts itself, and to turn her story into an inspirational one rather than a cautionary tale.
It's easy to forgive Benavides Born for its lo-fi production values, variable acting and a ham-fisted pop and rap soundtrack that overtly comments on the action—beginner's mistakes all. But the twist ending—though it doesn't completely negate the many moments of unexpected truth that came before it—does feel a bit like a betrayal of trust.
Contact: Jeff Hill firstname.lastname@example.org, 917 575 8808
Cast: Corina Calderon, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Joseph Julian Soria, Julia Vera and Julio Cedillo
Director: Amy Wendel
Screenwriters: Daniel Meisel and Amy Wendel
Producers: Susan Kirr and Daniel Meisel
Running time: 91 min
Release date: Unset