Starring Lou Diamond Phillips, Esai Morales, Rosanna DeSoto
Scott’s Review #1,242
Reviewed April 3, 2022
The brief musical career of Mexican rock ‘n’ roll star Richie Valens is showcased in a lovely little film called La Bamba (1987).
The film spawned a massive United States number one hit, the title track, for the band Los Lobos, that filled the summer with rich culture and a hummable beat. The song is a recreation of Valen’s earlier hit from 1958.
I’m humming it as a write this review!
The film itself is flavorful and tinged with Latino colors and traditions such as the importance of family. It provides a much-needed look at diversity and recognition of a young talent taken way too soon.
His rise to stardom is the main focus but not forgotten is his influence on his family, most notably his younger brother in which love, respect, jealousy, and conflict engulf their relationship.
Valens, a Los Angeles teenager played by Lou Diamond Phillips, becomes an overnight rock ‘n’ roll success in 1958, thanks to a love ballad called “Donna” that he wrote for his girlfriend (Danielle von Zerneck) whose parents didn’t want her to date a Latino boy.
But as his star rises, Valens has conflicts with his jealous brother, Bob (Esai Morales), and becomes haunted by a recurring nightmare of a plane crash, in which he is terrified of flying, just as he begins his first national tour alongside Buddy Holly (Marshall Crenshaw).
Foreshadowing indeed. It’s common knowledge that Valens tragically died in a plane crash over Iowa, alongside Holly and other prominent musicians.
Lou Diamond Phillips is fantastic in the lead role of Ritchie. The actor can entertain the audience while staying true to the life of the Mexican star. Not merely resembling him physically, Phillips brings Ritche’s famous life and energy to the table. Not lasting long in this world, the actor infuses as much soul as he can into the ill-fated singer successfully creating a dedication to his life.
The supporting actors are all terrific. Highly talented is Morales, his character of Bob is conflicted by his brother’s success but also closely bonded to him as well. As mama Connie, Rosanna DeSoto is fiercely protective of her cub while championing his career path and natural talent. Finally, Elizabeth Pena deserves praise for playing Rosie, the victimized girlfriend of Bob.
The interracial romance between Ritchie and Donna is also a strong area of La Bamba. Many decades after their short romance differing races coming together is commonplace but there are still those who object. The chemistry between Phillips and von Zerneck is palpable but mostly I imagined how nice it was between the real-life figures and the endless possibilities had the singer not perished.
Director and writer, Luis Valdez deserve credit for giving meaning to this relationship by making it obvious that other marginalized minority communities can be assured that most people support their unions.
La Bamba (1987) is a film where all the parts come together in perfect form. The music, the culture, the characters, all brim with life and meaning, ironically since the biography could have easily been a downer. Instead, it inspires and teaches unity and the forever-lasting power of music.
Yes, there are occasional cliches but I enjoyed the film immensely.