It almost sounds like a parody of your typical Sundance feature: three generations of single Mexican-American women learn (or re-learn) to love and be loved under a sweltering summer sun. The ensemble drama in question is “How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer” and it’s likable and textured enough for this jaded critic to cut it some slack in the originality department. As far as multi-generational chick flicks go, “Garcia Girls” is certainly far less trying than say, anything with “Ya Ya” in its title. Credit for this is mostly due to first-time writer/director Georgina Garcia Riedel, who skillfully weaves a rich web of loneliness, self-discovery, and desire, without ever sentimentalizing. Riedel’s debut feature is also greatly aided by a uniformly exceptional cast, including veteran Elizabeth Pena (always good) and America Ferrara (such a revelation in “Real Women Have Curves”).
As the summer blazes on in a sleepy Arizona border town, Dona Genoveva (a spirited Lucy Galiardo), the matriarch of the Garcia women, decides to buy a car on a whim, even though she can’t drive (doh!). When she enlists the help of a grungy old man from the neighborhood named Don Pedro (Jorge Cevera Jr.), long-forgotten pangs of desire begin to once again creep into her seventy-year-old bones. Meanwhile, the middle-generation Garcia woman, Rosa (Pena), is at first, equally at odds with her sexuality, having been recently divorced, that is until things start cooking at the butcher shop where she works. After a brief, ill-advised flirtation with a slimy, but apparently quite studly, married man, Rosa finds love in the least likely of places. As for the youngest Garcia woman, Blanca (Ferrara), she soon discovers burgeoning desires of her own, as she engages in a steamy romance with an older boy. It’s that completely meaningless, yet completely meaningful romance only possible in youth, as well as a source of great poignancy in the film.
The separate stories of the Garcia women are of course linked in all the expected ways. Invariably, each Garcia woman has a problem with another Garcia woman’s romantic entanglement and the sparks freely fly. However, as each Garcia woman slowly remembers, or in Blanca’s case learns, to once again embrace her unique sensuality, the tensions ease and life, in all its beauty and grace, resumes its normal course in their home. For a first film, “Garcia Girls” is an entirely respectable effort for Miss Riedel. Aside from an obvious gift for characterization and directing actors, she also displays a wonderfully nuanced focus on the banalities of small-town life. In fact, the setting of “Garcia Girls” may be the most memorable character in a film overflowing with them. In the end, this is a quaint little film that’s easily overlooked, but a savory, lazy-day treat if noticed and given a chance. Ebert, any open slots for your next Overlooked Film Festival?