La Bamba Reviews
Even if you're not crazy about biographical movies, I still recommend seeing "La Bamba." It's just a great all-around movie and all the actors and actresses do a great job to make this movie a classic. NOTE: That was my Amazon review from the year 2000. Wow, this only averages 3 stars on Flixster? Crazy people! This is one of the best biographical movies ever, I've seen it several times.
I had the opportunity to meet and interview the Valenzuela family in the town where they still live near my own home in California. They were extremely proud of the film, and rightly so, it's a nice story, even if Valens life had some rough edges. His family was far from perfect, especially his half-brother (who later really cleaned up his act). It's slightly sanitized, but you can clearly see where the boy came from. Those are actually the best parts of the film.
Lou Diamond Phillips really put a lot into this role, and I think it's the best thing he ever did, then or since. He has a certain charisma that was right for the very young Valens. His family dynamic is also well-explored, and the supporting cast fits this story like a glove. They really draw you into the story, and although Diamond-Phillips is undoubtedly handsomer than his real-life counterpart, he acted a certain awkwardness that the family said to me was quite similar to the real Valens. There's little material to draw upon for this biopic other than remembrances of his family, his music, his friends, and a few clips to draw upon. Valens wasn't quite the big name that some of the others were in the fateful plane crash, and he lived in a time before mass media. His American Bandstand appearance survives, and is recreated in the film.
The film also does a good job at portraying the bias against a Hispanic singer, but how his musical peers, at least, were supportive. The music in the film is Valens own, rearranged some, and played with verve by Los Lobos. Additional arranging was done by Miles Goodman and Carlos Santana, and they did a fine job on this. The music is simple but captivating. It's easy to see why Valens songs are still danceable when others of his era have faded. He had a lot of real heart, and so does the movie.
It's not a long film, so if you like music, biopics or just a movie that's not over-the-top, you might like La Bamba.
Having grown up on this film, and relating to it because Ritchie Valens was a Mexican American growing up in Southern California, of course this movie is close to my heart. There are corny moments, and the production isn't top-notch or anything, but it's a lovely and heart-breaking true story about a talented Mexican American kid whose life ended in tragedy. Esai Morales does a great job as Bob, Ritchie's half-brother, and the scene where Bob screams "Ritchie!" on the bridge gets me every time. The soundtrack provided by Los Lobos is also rockin'. It was my favorite bio-pic all my life, until Walk the Line came along...now they both share the crown. You gotta check it out if you haven't seen it...it would make a great double-rental with Walk the Line or Selena.