La Bamba


La Bamba

Critics Consensus

Elevated by a perceptive performance by a perfectly cast Lou Diamond Phillips, La Bamba distills its subject's creative energy -- and reflects his music's enduring appeal.



Total Count: 28


Audience Score

User Ratings: 52,186
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Movie Info

La Bamba is the story of 1950s rock 'n' roll rage Ritchie Valens (born Ricardo Valenzuela), played herein with gusto and credibility by Lou Diamond Phillips. The film follows 17-year-old Ritchie as he strolls from one end of his California barrio to the other, guitar in hand. We meet Ritchie's colorful Mexican/American family, who react to his fame with varying degrees of pride and envy. And we meet the ladies in his life: his ambitious mother Connie Valenzuela (Rosana De Soto), his half-sister Rosie Morales (Elizabeth Pena), and blonde classmate Donna Ludwig (Danielle von Zerneck), who inspired Ritchie's first hit "Donna." Both this song and "La Bamba" are given con brio interpretations by Lou Diamond Philips and by the contemporary group Los Lobos, who appear in the film as the Tijuana band. Also making cameo appearances are the real-life Mrs. Connie Valenzuela and Bob Morales, Richie's half- brother (played in the film by Esai Morales). Those familiar with The Buddy Holly Story (1978) don't need to be reminded what happens after Ritchie, Holly (Marshall Crenshaw) and The Big Bopper board that plane on February 3, 1959. The tragic coda of La Bamba is not unduly emphasized; this is a celebration of Ritchie Valens' life, not a eulogy.


Lou Diamond Phillips
as Ritchie Valens
Esai Morales
as Bob Morales
Rosanna DeSoto
as Connie Valezuela
Elizabeth Peña
as Rosie Morales
Joe Pantoliano
as Bob Keane
Marshall Crenshaw
as Buddy Holly
Brian Setzer
as Eddie Cochran
Howard Huntsberry
as Jackie WIlson
Rick Dees
as Ted Quillin
Sam Anderson
as Mr. Ludwig
Maggie Gwinn
as Mrs. Ludwig
Mrs. Connie Valenzuela
as Elderly lady at party
Mike Moroff
as Mexican Ed
Stephen Lee
as Big Bopper
John Quade
as Bartender
Diane Rodriguez
as Ernestine
Ernesto Hernandez
as Garbage Man
Kim Sebastian
as Donna's Girlfriend
Dyana Ortelli
as Donna's Girlfriend
Connie Alvarez
as Farm Worker
Tony Genaro
as Mr. Caballero
Irma Valcorta
as Farm Worker
Allison Robinson
as Girl at Party
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News & Interviews for La Bamba

Critic Reviews for La Bamba

All Critics (28) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (27) | Rotten (1)

Audience Reviews for La Bamba

  • Jun 14, 2014
    A refreshing biopic about a short-lived star who met with a tragic death (tragic and also ironic considering his fear of flying and how his fate was decided by the flip of a coin), and it is so engaging that it breaks our hearts even if we know from the get-go how everything ends.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Aug 02, 2011
    Siblings and I loved this movie when we were kids... I distinctly remember us rocking around the room playing air guitar and belting out his songs :)
    Letitia L Super Reviewer
  • Dec 07, 2010
    Some music biopics are about huge stars and their lives and loves. La Bamba is about Richie Valens, a rising star on the rock 'n roll scene who might have made an even bigger impact had it not been for his untimely death. As a film, writer/director Luis Valdez did a terrific job of telling the very simple story of Richie, his family, and his dreams. It's not a big splashy film like an Elvis biopic or the excellent Walk The Line. It's a film that's big in heart if not in glitz. Produced by some respected veterans of Hollywood, the movie is clean, and uncluttered by too many cliche situations. Valdez also wrote the script, and it's clear he cared about his subject. 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.
    Mark K Super Reviewer
  • Aug 15, 2009
    "La Bamba" is the best biographical movie I've ever seen. It's the story of Ritchie Valens, the famous singer that sung some famous songs such as "La Bamba" and "Oh Donna." The movie tells the story of how Ritchie Valens achieved the fame as a singer and of how he dealt with it while he was doing it. It also shows how his becoming rich didn't go well with his brother and how he met the girl of his dreams, Donna. All the great songs that Ritchie Valens recorded are in this movie, and sung to perfection. 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.
    Jason O Super Reviewer

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