Being able to see someone like yourself in mainstream media is something few minorities get to experience. This “luxury” is something that should be available to everyone but is mostly scarce even today. That’s why I understand the appeal of Lowriders because it not only depicts an accurate representation of the culture but also provides other people like myself with much-needed visibility. It is so hard to find an honest representation of my heritage in any form of media, forcing us to cling on to any secondary or tertiary characters we come across on both the big and small screen. Film, television and everything mainstream in between offers little opportunities for representation aside from comedic relief or token Latino friend. At times, Lowriders may not always be the film we (the Latino community) deserve, but it is absolutely the film we need.
Writers Elgin James and Cheo Hodari Coker pair up to create a complimentary story blending both of their strengths into Lowriders. James has experience cultivating the relationship of adolescents from his coming-of-age film Little Birds, while Coker has the gritty world building and cultural integration like he did in TV shows like Luke Cage and Southland Tales. Together, they create an immersive world told mainly from the perspective of young Latino Danny, who feels unbound by his surroundings, but struggles to find his himself in the melting pot that is Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to anyone outside of children of first-generation immigrants, coming to terms with your culture and identity is a struggle.
Growing up, I remember feeling embarrassed of embracing my culture because it wasn’t the culture that I would see around me or even on TV. I learned to become a chameleon, being able to blend into any situation and with any group of people. I thought I knew myself, but as I got older, I realized that if my identity changed depending on who I was around at that time, then I really didn’t have an identity at all. Aside from being frustrated, I ended up resenting my parents for not understanding me, and they resented me for not trying to understand them. In the end, we were both at fault, but also innocent because this experience was something new to both of us and we were both coming to terms with reconciling our heritage with American culture to find a happy medium.
That is essentially what Lowriders is about, and even though I didn’t experience the same exact events Danny did, my metaphorical lowrider cultural connection resonates with this film. To an outsider who doesn’t understand the culture clash immigrants face when they start a new life in America, the events in this film may come off as a bit of a stereotype. To those of us who have experienced these feelings of “otherness”, Lowriders is a story that may not be perfect, but it has enough heart, soul and relatable situations to feel necessary.
Director Ricardo de Montreuil takes this story of family, identity, and cars, and turns it into a gritty, Latino parable. De Montreuil takes us on a visual tour of East LA, emphasizing how the way of life differs depending what part you are in. The storytelling de Montreuil employs is one we have seen in every family-centered film like this one. The uneven pacing, the hint of melodrama, and even the shots give this film a familiar flavor and lessen the emotional impact of the film as a whole. Despite the technical aspects going against the film, there is still more than enough pathos to give Lowriders an effective emotional punch that will keep the audience engaged.
The true catalyst of Lowriders, aside from the colorful spectacle of the cars themselves, is the cast. They are at the emotional core of the film and the true storytellers in the film. Gabriel Chavarria gives a genuine performance and showcases his versatility as he plays the perfect counterpart to every other character in this film. The already strong performances by Demián Bichir, Theo Rossi, and Melissa Benoist are given greater authenticity when put together with Chavarria’s effortless chemistry. In the end, every performance, from Eva Longoria to Tony Revolori, gives the film another layer of character that ultimately adds to the film’s charm and importance. Lowriders exudes passion from the cast and everyone involved, and the final result is a passion project that is both poignant and socially relevant despite its many flaws.