Until very recently, lesbian films centered on teenage characters tended toward melodrama. High school romances often ended in tragedy, plot devices often trumped young love, and well-meaning filmmakers were thwarted by various realities of the movie business. Many of these movies were also lily-white, with young women of color typically filling minor roles, if any.
Then Pariah and Circumstance came out last year, throwing all of the stereotypes out the door and presenting worlds that felt genuine, with characters that were believable, vulnerable teens. Joining this list is Mosquita y Mari, portraying an intense teenage relationship between two Chicana girls in the Huntington Park neighborhood of L.A. It’s about as real and honest a film as we’ve seen in recent years, with a script that invites you completely inside the movie’s world, and young stars who fill their roles with equal weight and youthful exuberance.
She drifts happily enough through her existence until an intriguing new neighbor moves in across the street. Mari (Venecia Troncoso) is aloof and pouty – the picture of teenage cool. When Yolanda over-enthusiastically offers to share her textbook in class, Mari calls her an annoying fly – a mosquita – and it’s not until Yolanda saves her from trouble (when she nearly gets caught smoking up in the school bathroom) that a friendship blossoms between them.
What begins as a friendly deal to help Mari succeed in school soon takes a life of its own. The girls establish their own hangout in an abandoned garage, they study and talk about life for hours on end. They hang out in each other’s houses, walk to school together, and basically, in all the ways that really matter, live together.
The words “lesbian” or “queer” are never used throughout the movie, but this is very much a film about identity, and it’s clear that the girls are very much in love with one another. Where it all gets (realistically) muddy is in the context – what exactly does that mean to a 15-year-old girl struggling with other aspects of her identity?
Enough good things cannot be said of Pineda and Tronsoco who aren’t so much playing their roles as living them. A film this honest lives and dies by its leads, and here, it thrives on the authenticity of our young stars’ performances.
It’s no surprise that the film is getting major buzz at Sundance at the moment, nor is it a shock to learn that the script was itself workshopped at the festival when Guerrero was selected as a Sundance Institute/Ford Foundation film fellow six years ago. Unlike so many projects that languish over time or get ruined by the “too many chefs” problem, it seems Mosquita y Mari has instead been handled carefully and crafted nearly to perfection.