Mi Vida Loca: Allison Anders’ Tale of Latinas Gangs, Follow-Up to Gas Food Lodging

For Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life), Allison Anders turned to Latinas gangs in Los Angeles, an unexplored theme in American film.

Like Gas Food Lodging, her impressive debut, the movie concerns the plight of teenage girls who become welfare mothers, stuck with no future outside the barrio. Demonstrating her commitment to working-class women, Anders focuses on Echo Park Latinas, providing a fresh respite from the male-themed movies that have dominated the gang genre. Films about street gangs have been replete with cliches and stereotypes, even the gritty ones dwell on macho, volatile men who stake out their territories in graffiti and blood, and women who are mostly sex objects.

Giving the cholas their say, Mi Vida Loca is about female adolescents who seek solace in outlaw life in defiance of their poverty. The nonlinear narrative is divided into three interrelated chapters, which depict the barrio without sensationalism or condescension. The melodrama, which consists of long flashbacks, interweaves a romantic interlude about a woman who falls in love with her prison pen pal. The first tale is about the animosity between best friends Mousie (Seidy Lopez) and Sad Girl (Angel Aviles) over their mutual boyfriend.

The second, lighter story concerns the release of Giggles (Marlo Marron) from jail and her return to Echo Park. A more ironic tone resurfaces with the closing segment, which involves the disillusionment of Blue Eyes (Magali Alvarado) with the playboy she worships.

The mix of an unknown professionals with actual homegirls pays off: It’s almost impossible to distinguish the actors from the residents. Throughout, there’s keen attention to textures, with a sumptuous camera recording background details. In all of her films, Anders has employed a heightened sense of color. Here, Blue Eyes wears a red dress that matches the bridge, and a closeup of Sad Girl’s mouth reveals erotic lips that are as purple as petals.

Anders’s intent was to show that the women don’t need men. But they do. Sad Girl and Mousie have been best friends since childhood, but their friendship is strained when each becomes pregnant by Ernesto (Jacob Vargas), a sweet-tempered drug dealer who cares more for his painted truck than for either of them. Tough around the edges, but soft at the center, the film comes from Anders’ heart rather than her head. One girl says, “Women don’t use weapons to prove a point, they use weapons for love,” but before the movie is over, a rival proves her wrong. The women exist in a world where struggle are expressed in absolute terms of love or hate.

In its blend of ethnography and flawed storytelling, the movie wavers, revealing Anders’ uncertainty over whether she was making a melodrama or a documentary. The episodic structure accentuates the film’s problematic shifts in tone from romanticism to realism. And the use of multiple voice-overs is confusing, especially in the beginning, when the two main characters–Mousie and Sad Girl–narrate their stories. The logic of the narrative is flawed, as Holly Willis pointed out, because the film doesn’t convince us that the girls are irrevocably entrapped by their milieu.

Mi Vida Loca received a lot of publicity as the first movie about Latinas. But whereas her background as an unwed mother proved an asset for Gas Food Lodging, Anders shows no understanding of her characters–an Latino filmmaker might have been more sensitive to the material. Though Anders talked to the bario girls at length, her script lacks the intimacy and immediacy of Gas Food Lodging, made as it is from the outside.

To her credit, Anders doesn’t patronize the Latino community with another stereotypical portrait. “The last thing I wanted,” Anders declared in a manifesto, “and certainly the last thing these kids needed was to be colonized by a white liberal, preaching a point of view that hands out easy solutions.” Nonetheless, her treatment lacks a discernible point of view, which may stem from her confusion honorable sociology with mediocre filmmaking.