Feels Like The First Time: Guerrero’s Debut Nondescript But Heartfelt
Writer/director Aurora Guerrero’s feature debut, Mosquita Y Mari is a coming of age exercise in which a young Chicana experiences her first crush and discovers her sexual orientation. While world cinema has hardly exhausted itself on stories of LGBT youth, Guerrero’s quietly told and observant feature has ragtag realism on its sleeve, but unfortunately doesn’t manage to assert itself as memorable.
Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda) is a bright young student at the top of her class. Living in Huntington Park with her loving but strict parents, constantly reinforcing the importance of their daughter’s education so that she can get into college and live a better life, Yolanda doesn’t do much outside of her studies and hang out with two popular and fashionably vapid peers. But her life suddenly changes when a new girl, Mari (Venecia Troncoso) moves in with her single mother next door. Yolanda is utterly fascinated with this mysterious new girl, but when she’s assigned to share a text book with the new girl in class, Mari disparagingly nicknames her Mosquita, which means an annoying fly.
When Yolanda defends the new girl to her uber bitch classmates, the two forge a friendship and Yolanda agrees to tutor Mari. But soon it’s evident that Yolanda’s friendship is beginning to turn into infatuation and love for the sad-eyed and pouty Mari, who turns out to be recently transplanted from Mexico and forced to work in the evening handing out flyers in order to support the family. And between the courting of adolescent boys, Yolanda’s disparaging friends and her wary, paranoid, Catholic parents, she must keep her true feelings for her best friend secret.
Aside from some unsteady camerawork and the whiff of woodenness from an amateur performer, or two, there’s nothing innately wrong with Mosquita Y Mari, which is clearly born out of Guerrero’s own assembled experiences. Pineda and Troncosco are quite realistic in their performances, exuding a naturalism that’s sweet and realistic in their burgeoning dynamic. Their existence also juxtaposes different options for immigrants and the children of immigrants, the girls’ backgrounds dictating both the nature of their relationship and the length of time it will last, as college will be beckoning Yolanda in only a few months. However, while exuding a definite realism, Guerrero’s film also feels leadenly inconsequential. Remove cultural labels and specific religious mores and you’ll find that you’ve seen several (and recent) variations on this same trajectory that are more memorably depicted. Throw in some poorly executed sequences, like the repeated involvement of a corny, nosy neighborhood grocer and you’ll realize once too often that Mosquita Y Mari’s subject matter is as dry as day old pan dulce. While Guerrero does a laudable job with her miniscule budget and nonprofessional cast, there’s not enough for her film to get by on charm alone. Fittingly, Guerrero has made an appropriate film about first love, an experience that may have felt compelling, life altering and detrimental, but to look back on later in life reveals itself to be necessary, but unimpressive, uninspiring, and just a little wearisome.