Demian Bichir, Gabriel Chavarria, Theo Rossi and Eva Longoria star in director Ricardo de Montreuil's exploration of Mexican family and culture in Los Angeles.
Self-righteous certitude, seething resentment, and taciturn parental authority collide repeatedly in Lowriders, an exploration of a nuclear family and Mexican-American culture.
Directed with conviction by Ricardo de Montreuil and bathed in amber by cinematographer Andrés Sánchez, the film is similar in look to the duo's previous feature together. Released more than 10 years ago, La mujer de mi hermano (aka My Brother's Wife ) was a gauzy representation of a dreamy fantasy, filled with familial melodrama.
More grounded in reality, Lowriders is nonetheless still stuffed with a heightened sense of drama, blended this time with an earnest desire to educate outsiders and celebrate car culture. The original script by Elgin James and Cheo Hodari Coker lays out the archetypes clearly, mostly following Danny Alvarez (Gabriel Chavarria), an artistic-minded young man who sprays graffiti at night and works reluctantly in his father's garage during the day.
Danny dreams of making a living as an artist and is proud to make the city his canvas, as it were. Meanwhile, he lives with his father Miguel (Demian Bichir), his stepmother Gloria (Eva Longoria) and his younger sister Isabel (Montse Hernandez) in a modest home near Elysian Park in Los Angeles, where he can freely grumble about his father's shortcomings.
One night, Danny's older brother Francisco (Theo Rossi) arrives out of the shadows. Newly freed after eight years in prison, he instantly begins waging a quiet battle for Danny's soul, seeking to wrestle him away from their father.
Danny is ready for independence, and that same night meets Lorelai (Melissa Benoist), a Caucasian photographer. She, too, is ready-made to take Danny away from his roots and into an exciting new world.
For all the intriguing setups, however, the film continually takes the easy way out. Perhaps that's for the sake of expediency and a fleet running time, which would also explain the voice-over that disappears after the introductory scenes … until it's needed late in the film to paper over an unexpected turn.
Indeed, Lowriders feels structured to enable an epic tale of a father and his two sons, and how he lost them and sought to regain their trust so he could pass on his legacy. (His business, for example, is named "Alvarez and Sons," and Miguel's father is briefly mentioned as an artist. Was he a mechanic too?) Built into the story as well is the death of Miguel's first wife years before, which still grieves all three of the men affected to one extent or another.
Instead, the dramatics focus Danny's coming of age, and, somewhat occasionally, expands to touch upon Miguel as a recovering alcoholic. Increasingly, the film resembles a pencil sketch of what might have been; only a portion of it is detailed, which is often frustrating to behold.
As it is, Gabriel Chavarria does a fine job as the divided Danny in what is essentially the lead role. Demian Bichir provides excellent support as his conflicted father, and Theo Rossi supplies charming menace as Danny's older brother. (The idea that he may not be as guilty as he's presumed to be is another thread that is introduced but never developed.)
Eva Longoria is properly grave; Melissa Benoist, best known for TV's Supergirl, establishes her own distinct persona here, even if her character is eventually revealed as not one, but two stereotypes. Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Dope) once again plays an outsider who wants to be an insider.
Director de Montreil has fashioned Lowriders into a modest, low-key drama that's perfectly enjoyable for what it is, even if it falls short of what it could have been.
The film opens in theaters across the U.S. on Friday, May 12.