Gabriela (2001) / Romance-Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for language and sexuality
Running Time: 102 min.
Cast: Jaime Gomez, Seidy Lopez, Troy Winbush, Zach Galligan, Lupe Ontiveros
Director: Vincent Jay Miller
Screenplay: Vincent Jay Miller
Review published April 6, 2002
If you can look beyond the ridiculously bad look of the film, and the fact that it's an amateurish, low budget work at best, Gabriela makes for an occasionally funny, occasionally thought-provoking, comedy-drama. Not that a higher budget would have made it a groundbreaking film, as at its core, this isn't the freshest of plots, and it's also marred with a particularly bad representation of the mentally ill (played mostly for laughs.) However, I'm going to give it a modest recommendation for some keen insights in Vincent Jay Miller's script, as well as some very nice acting from an appealing cast.
Jaime Gomez (Crimson Tide, In the Blink of an Eye) plays Mike, who works with the mentally ill with his best friend, Douglas (Winbush, The Replacements). While working, he meets a student working in the clinic, Gabriela (Lopez, Solo), who is trying to become a therapist. The two have a lot of sparks between each other, but she is already engaged to another man (Galligan, Gremlins 2), a sweet guy, but boring, and no longer romantic. By contrast, Mike is extremely attractive to her, and much more loving, and soon the two find themselves caught up in an affair. Now that the two are in love, Gabriela must choose between Mike and her fiancée, and the risk of offending the family that has such high hopes for her.
The best thing I can say about Gabriela is that it has about as good a cast that one could reasonably hope for in such a low budget endeavor. Jaime Gomez has an amiable charm, much like Steve Guttenberg when he wasn't making bad police comedies, and Seidy Lopez is certainly a fetching woman, and yes, she can act. The script is also quite good, providing some very good moments of drama, and even some witty dialogue, making each character stand out with their own personalities, even if they tend to be cut from the same cloth that all other romantic comedies typically draw from.
While Vincent Jay Miller seems to be a writer with some talent, I'm afraid that he isn't as good behind the camera as he is with the typewriter. The look of Gabriela is very reminiscent of the equally low budget skin flicks you find on late-night Cinemax, with soft lighting and a "gauze over the lens" effect. The graininess is abundant throughout, and there are entire scenes where the colors appear washed out because there wasn't enough lighting to counteract the style. It's also put together rather blandly, and as much as I'd like to say that you get used to how poorly shot the film is, it unfortunately becomes a a little distracting when actors look like they're caught in a sandstorm.
Like I said, some people will be so put off by the poor look of the film, that they aren't willing to stick with Gabirela past the first 5 minutes. I have mixed feelings about this, because Gabriela does eventually get better as the dramatic aspects increase, yet I also felt the ending was abrupt and not altogether satisfying.
I'm giving Gabriela a modest recommendation for the most hardcore of indie film nuts, especially ones who like films which are respectful of Hispanic culture. It's insightful, and quite knowing, and if you can see through the grain, there are some actors to watch for in the future.
©2002 Vince Leo