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A Sensitive View Of Barrio ‘Family’

Hollywood seldom makes movies about Hispanics. When the studios do, the films are violent sagas about criminal gangs: “American Me, Mi Vida Loca, ” and “Blood In, Blood Out.”

“My Family “is an exception, a generational family epic that gives a more rounded view of barrio culture.

The story begins with the 1920 journey of the patriarch, who spends a year walking to Los Angeles from his impoverished Mexican village. Forging a better life, he and his wife work hard to rear their large family.

The story jumps to the ‘50s, when Chucho (Esai Morales) gets into trouble with gangs and the law, while one daughter gets married and the other becomes a nun.

Jumping ahead again into the ‘70s, the story picks up with Paco (Edward James Olmos) as a writer recording the family saga, and another son as a lawyer crossing over into white society. But the major story turns to the rebellious Jimmy (Jimmy Smits), whose personal struggles form the family focus.

While “My Family “shares one family’s joy, triumphs and tragedies, the film fails to probe deeper into the family dynamic, never examining why children of industrious, religious parents do not adopt their values.

This is a missed opportunity because the events of the story are unremarkable. It’s the characters we want to know more about. But the actors and director do not reveal enough about them.

The story meanders through interesting and dull anecdotes, the way family stories often do.

The acting is adequate, but only Smits emits any charisma, and he doesn’t show up until the second half.

Still, “My Family “does offer outsiders a portrait of East Los Angeles life that isn’t only about gangs and crime, but about the strands of family.

The picture also touches upon the issues of social injustice, police brutality, religion and mysticism, but only in quick passage.

The production of “My Family “doesn’t mean that Hollywood studios are changing their approach to Hispanic movies. One studio was convinced to try it this time, but if “My Family “doesn’t cross over into box-office success, we can expect more blood next time.

“My Family “is mostly in English, occasionally in Spanish with English subtitles.

xxxx “My Family” Location: North Division Credits: Directed by Gregory Nava and starring Edward James Olmos, Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales, Eduardo Lopez Rojas, Jenny Gago, Constance Marie and Elpidia Carrillo Running time: 2:07 Rating: R