(director/writer: Gregory Nava; screenwriter: Anna Thomas; cinematographer: Edward Lachman; editor: Nancy Richardson; music: Mark McKenzie; cast: Edward James Olmos (Paco), Rafael Cortes (Roberto), Ivette Reina (Trini), Amelia Zapata (Roberto’s girlfriend), Jacob Vargas (Young Jose), Emilio Del Haro (oxcart driver), Abel Woolrich (oxcart driver), Leon Singer (El Californio), Rosalee Mayeux (Maria’s employer), Jennifer Lopez (young Maria), Alicia del Lago (Maria’s aunt), Thomas Rosales (The Boatman), Esai Morales (Chucho), Constance Marie (Toni), Lupe Ontiveros (Irene Sanchez), Eduardo Lopez Rojas (Jose Sanchez), Scott Bakula (Priest,David), Enrique Castillo (Memo Sanchez), Mary Steenburgen (Gloria), Dedee Pfeiffer (Karen Gillespie); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Anna Thomas; New Line Cinema; 1995)

“An ambitious sweeping epic made for a meager $5 1/2 million about three generations of a Mexican-American family.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An ambitious sweeping epic made for a meager $5 1/2 million about three generations of a Mexican-American family, the Sanchez family, that emigrate to East Los Angeles. Though the focus is on a Latino family, its themes are universal. It’s noteworthy for its sterling Latino cast (it has Jennifer Lopez in her first big part before her Hollywood breakthrough) and how it’s one of the few 20th century films to take up the Latino family in America from a strictly Latino viewpoint.

Director Gregory Nava (“El Norte”/”A Time of Destiny”/ “Selena”) lays on the corn, which became at times too much. Though it has good production values, it’s well-intentioned and able to give the Latino a positive domestic look in a realistic way, the film failed to hold my interest, was too long at 128 minutes, and it never could engage my heart or mind. But I must say, it’s sincere, its characters are portrayed with warmth, and it’s charming. It’s written by Nava and his producer wife Anna Thomas.

Edward James Olmos plays Paco, one of the Sanchez family members who became a writer. Olmos also acts as the folksy narrator (a bad decision by the filmmaker, as the narration unjustly gave it a false ring), telling of how in the 1920s, the family patriarch Jose Sanchez (Jacob Vargas, played as an adult by Eduardo Lopez Rojas) left his small village in Mexico and walked to Los Angeles (which took a year). There he worked as a gardener for families in West Los Angeles and married a very religious local girl named Maria (Jennifer Lopez, played later as an adult by Jenny Gago), and they would eventually raise six children. Problem was during the Depression the INS authorities went through the Latino community rounding up illegals and citizens alike and send them back to Mexico, and unfortunately, the pregnant Maria, was sent to Mexico. The determined Maria heads back on a raft holding the newborn infant in her arms and eventually makes her way back to East Los Angeles and her two daughters and husband as she miraculously survives a powerful current that swept her away.

My Family moves through six decades laying on us the growth of the family, their deaths, their joys and their disappointments, as the immigrant family tries to capture the American Dream and fit in. There are just too many characters and set pieces to take it all in. It finally ends on a few bittersweet notes: Paco’s troubled younger brother, Jimmy (Jimmy Smits), is released from prison in the ’80s and their nun sister Toni (Constance Marie) returns from Central America to shock her parents with the news that she has left her order to marry a former gringo priest (Scott Bakula).

The exceptional Latino cast includes Jimmy Smits (who gives the film the winning performance it needed), Esai Morales, Constance Marie, Lupe Ontiveros (the patron saint of Chicano films) and Eduardo Lopez Rojas (one of Mexico’s great actors).

My Family Poster