As a film critic I watch at least a movie almost every single day. And yet somehow there are films that still slip through the cracks and I haven’t seen despite them being quite popular and even iconic. This is the whole purpose behind this blind spot series. Well, a couple of months ago I was talking to my friend Larry and he was shocked I haven’t seen the musical biopic Selena. This is a favorite film of his (see his review above) so I knew I must put it on my blind spot picks for 2021.
Selena tells the story of Tejano singing star Selena Quintanilla-Perez who shot up into fame on the Mexican charts (even winning a grammy in the category) before being tragically killed by an employee at the age of 23.
Jennifer Lopez shines playing Selena. First of all, she looks so much like her that there really was nobody else who could have played the role. Also the film lives and dies in the staging of the musical sequences. Some of the more dramatic sequences feel a little weak in the acting departments but the film knows this and gets quickly back to the music. We get to see Selena’s charisma on the stage and how she could truly captivate an entire stadium.
Director Gregory Nava smartly frames the film around her final breakthrough show at the Houston Astrodome. With a story with such a sad ending it gives her a moment of triumph which helps it feel rewarding while also of course being still sad. We at least know she got her moment.
The script also gives most of the meatier dialogue to veterans like Edward James Olmos who plays Selena’s father Abraham Quintanilla. I particularly liked a speech he gives about the Catch-22 of being a Mexican American:
“We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting”
Some may complain that Selena doesn’t drift far away from the music bio-pic formula. However, perhaps because Selena is so young we are spared many of the scenes of rebellion with drugs and partying we typically get in these kind of films. About the worst we get is her wearing revealing clothing, wanting to get married and her band-mates messing up a hotel room. Pretty tame in the musical bio-pic world.
Mostly we get to know a sweet young woman with a beautiful voice who’s life was cut far too short. The film decides to leave the shooting off screen, which perhaps was best since it was all so fresh (she died in 1995 and the film was released in 1997). Still, I wish we could have gotten one more scene with Yolanda to try and understand why she did what she did. It all feels a little rushed at the end.
Nevertheless, I am glad I finally saw Selena. I can understand why it is a favorite of Larry and many others. It captures the appeal of Selena singing and Lopez is fantastic in those scenes. Olmos backs her up with a great performance as her father and the whole experience is respectful and uplifting. If you haven’t seen it I’d say it is worth checking out.
I’ve heard from all of my friends that the new Netflix series is not good. Here is my friend Kristen’s review:
I give the 1997 film Selena
7 out of 10