My Family is a 1995 American independent drama film directed by Gregory Nava, written by Nava and Anna Thomas, and starring Jimmy Smits, Edward James Olmos, and Esai Morales. The film depicts three generations of a Mexican-American family who emigrated from Mexico and settled in East Los Angeles.
The story is narrated by the family's oldest son Paco. The film begins with José Sanchez, the father of the family, making a journey that lasts one year on foot from Mexico to Los Angeles. He travels to Los Angeles to meet a distant relative known as El Californio, who was born in the city when it was still part of Mexico. They become fast friends and grow a corn farm together. However, after several years, El Californio nears death. Shortly before dying, El Californio says he wants the following written on his tombstone:
José meets and marries the love of his life, María, an American citizen. After María is illegally deported to Mexico by the U.S. federal government in a mass roundup, she makes it back to Los Angeles via a long and arduous trip two years later, where she returns home with their new son Chucho.
Twenty years later in 1958 or 1959, eldest daughter Irene is getting married. Chucho and Paco have grown up. New additions to the family include Toni, Guillermo "Memo", and brother Jimmy.
The film begins to gain momentum after the wedding, when a series of events seal Chucho's fate. One night at a dance hall, Chucho is dancing with his girlfriend, when his rival Butch Mejia starts to bother him. This results in a bloody knife fight between the two, and Chucho accidentally kills him. After this event, Chucho becomes a fugitive of the police. One night when Jimmy is playing ball with his friends, Chucho is shot dead by the Los Angeles Police Department right in front of Jimmy. Other members of the family learn of Chucho's death when they hear gunshots and rush to a nearby street. As an ambulance arrives to take Chucho's lifeless body away, Paco narrates how Chucho's whole life had been on borrowed time.
The third generation, which takes place another twenty years later in the 1970s and 1980s, faces situations such as acculturation, assimilation, and past problems of the family.
Jimmy completes a stint in prison and returns home. It is revealed that after Chucho's death 20 years back, Jimmy became an angry man following in his footsteps, becoming a fugitive like him. One day, Toni visits the Sanchez home and stuns her parents with the news that she is no longer a nun and has married a priest named David Ronconi. Toni and David become involved in helping political refugees. When they find out that a Salvadoran refugee, Isabel, has become a target for murder and is being held for deportation back to El Salvador, Toni convinces Jimmy to marry her so that she is able to stay in the U.S.
Jimmy is resistant to the idea of being a married man; however, Isabel slowly makes herself at home and Jimmy has no choice but to let her stay with him. As Jimmy works on his car listening to "I'm Your Puppet", Isabel comes up to him and changes the music in the cassette-player. She tries to get him to dance with her on the street. At first he doesn't want to, but she finally succeeds in teaching him some steps. He asks her at the end of the song, "Will you teach me how to salsa?" It is here that Jimmy finally lets Isabel into his heart and where they both understand that although other people don't understand them, they know now who they really are together and they finally consummate their marriage.
Isabel becomes pregnant shortly thereafter but unfortunately dies after giving birth to their son, Carlitos. Enraged, Jimmy attacks the doctor whom he blames for her death, burglarizes a store, and is jailed, leaving his son to be raised by his parents. When Jimmy gets out of prison 4 years later, he initially doesn't want anything to do with his son, who is a spirited, but trouble-making child. When Jimmy finally sees his son, he is filled with joy and immediately wants to care for him. However, his son hates him, who thinks his real father is a cattle rancher who lives in Texas. After Jimmy decides to change his life around for the good of his son, Carlitos accepts him and moves with him to Texas where Jimmy has secured a good-paying manufacturing job in San Antonio.
The film concludes with Jose and Maria reminiscing about their past as Jose says "God has been good to us, we've been very lucky, and our life it has been very...very good", and the camera pans to a shot of Los Angeles.
While the film was distributed by New Line Cinema, many production companies were involved in the making of the film, including American Playhouse, Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope, Majestic Films International, and Newcomb Productions. Gregory Nava has stated that the film has autobiographic overtones, but the film was more inspirational rather than specific. Nava says "A lot of the specifics came from other families when I was doing research for the film in East Los Angeles." The final scene is duplicated shot-for-shot from the final scene of Satyajit Ray's 1959 film The World of Apu.
Filming began in 1994. The film was shot in both California and Mexico. In California, locations included Agoura Hills, Highland Park, and East Los Angeles. Mexican locations included Ocumicho, Patamba, and Pátzcuaro, which are all in the state of Michoacán.
Reviews were generally positive. The film holds a 79% "Fresh" score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 7.3/10, based on 58 reviews from professional critics. The website's critics consensus reads, "My Family's emotional impact is dulled by sentiment, but this well-acted drama strikes a universal chord with its multi-generational look at Mexican-American life."
Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, liked the direction of the film, and wrote "Their story is told in images of startling beauty and great overflowing energy; it is rare to hear so much laughter from an audience that is also sometimes moved to tears. Few movies like this get made because few filmmakers have the ambition to open their arms wide and embrace so much life."
Film critics Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, who write for the web based Spirituality and Practice, liked the film, the acting and the direction of the film. They wrote "My Family is a touching and often mystical portrait of a multi-generational Mexican-American family in East Los Angeles...Director Gregory Nava (El Norte) does a fine job orchestrating the many events in this emotionally resonant drama."
But not all were so kind. Caryn James, in a film review in The New York Times, wrote the film was "wildly uneven" and "offers a trite, overblown narration by Edward James Olmos and an often flagging sense of drama." She was also not happy with Nava's direction and wrote "[Nava] seems so enamored of the texture of Mexican-American life that he glides past any sense of character." James however was very complimentary of Jimmy Smits' performance.
My Family opened in the United States in wide release on May 3, 1995. In the United Kingdom, it opened on October 6, 1995. The film was screened at a few film festivals including the Donostia-San Sebastián International Film Festival, Spain. Sales at the box-office were average. The first week's gross was $2,164,840, and the total receipts for the run were $11,079,373. It grossed just $0.4 million internationally for a worldwide total of $11.5 million. The budget of the film is estimated at $5,500,000.
A video was released April 8, 1997 and a DVD version was released on June 9, 2004 by New Line Home Video. A Spanish version video was released.
For the original motion picture soundtrack, the producers include a cross section of Latino music, including a merengue and a mambo. The song "Angel Baby" by Rosie and the Originals is included as well, sung by Exposé vocalist Jeanette Jurado. In the movie, Jurado made a cameo as Rosie Hamlin performing the song.
A CD was released on April 25, 1995 on the Nonesuch Records label. The CD contains 14 tracks, including the main title theme written by Mark McKenzie and Pepe Avila. Gregory Nava wrote the liner notes for the CD. Composer Mark McKenzie also released Con Passione (2001), a CD that contains various compositions he has written for films including seven tracks for My Family.
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