East Side Story

Wolfe Video,

Carlos Portugal

Carlos Portugal.
Charo Toledo

Rene Alvarado, Irene DeBari, David Beron, Steve Callahan, Gladys Jimenez, Cory Schneider, Luis Accinelli

Unrated, 88 minutes

Three To Tango
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, October, 2008

Carlos Portugal's East Side Story is a romantic comedy that also hammers the audience over the head with a subplot involving neighborhood prejudice. Rene Alvarado stars as Diego, a cute young Latino who works in his grandmother's L.A. Mexican eatery. He is a Culinary Institute graduate who dreams of someday opening a much trendier restaurant. "How can you leave here?" his grandmother asks, "There are so many memories. You were toilet trained in that kitchen."

Diego also has a "straight" boyfriend. His fuck-buddy, Pablo (David Beron), is a young realtor who insists on keeping his personal and professional lives separate. Diego sees them as being a couple while Pablo is a closeted gay man who wants it both ways. Despite the role playing games they enjoy whenever they have sex, Pablo wants a trophy wife to go with his business persona and he finds one when he meets Diego's young and beautiful aunt, Bianca (Gladys Jimenez). Bianca has just returned from Europe with tales of yet another failed relationship, this time with a Count. She gets involved with the wrong man again when she falls in love with Pablo - who has ordered Diego to keep his mouth shut regarding their past trysts.

Things get even more complicated when Diego meets the new neighbors who have just moved next door to the home that he shares with his grandmother. When he takes a plate of his grandmother's enchiladas over as a housewarming present, Wesley (Steve Callahan) answers the door, shirtless, and Diego's heart is aflutter. It seems that the attraction may be mutual but Wesley has a rather bitchy partner named Jonathon (Cory Schneider) who, upon seeing Diego, assumes he is a delivery boy. Jonathon, we soon discover, is quite bigoted towards Latinos and, when Diego answers his nosy questions and remarks that his parents are dead, Jonathon loudly asks "Was it gang related?" Wesley sees their domicile as being their first real home together while Jonathon views it as merely a business investment and, distrusting their new surroundings, wants to flip it as soon as possible. Which brings us to the secondary plot...

Many old school Latinos in the neighborhood see the affluent gay couples moving in as an invasion and a sign of the apocalypse. One of them, an old man who works in the restaurant, has just written an angry letter to the newspaper in which he rants that "white homos are buying our houses" and that "if we don't do something now we will all wind up being their gardeners." Bianca berates the old man for his views, outing Diego, in the process. This will cause much ado as the story unfolds.

While Diego fumes over being outed and being dumped by Pablo, he finds that Wesley is paying a lot of attention to him. Don't tell me you didn't see this coming...

For the most part, East Side Story is a funny movie that explores the trials and tribulations of two tangled love triangles. The volatility of each situation promises explosive payoffs for the audience and the film is anything but dull. The humor is, at times, a bit broad but it usually delivers. Masculinity roles are given a workout. When Diego confesses that he is love with him, Pablo tells him that he's "starting to sound like a woman." But when Bianca's sexual advances become too aggressive for Pablo, he abandons the traditional hetero male role and says that he wants to wait. This guy is so unsure of himself sexually that his discomfort is actually a pleasure to watch. Look for the scene where Bianca goes down on Pablo and the only way he can get aroused is to pretend he is the evil Border Patrol guard from the play-acting he did with Diego in the film's opening.

At times it is rather sweet, often it is a bit over the top to the point of becoming a bad sitcom - albeit an R-rated one. Injecting social commentary to make the film more serious, the levity is frequently broken by bits of bigotry from the surrounding environs. First, and foremost, is the old cook from the restaurant. His character is not in the least bit funny and is, in fact, downright ugly. He might as well be the Reverend Fred Phelps. His refusal to prepare a dinner, for two gay patrons, sparks a confrontation that becomes just a tad too extreme when he drops dead of a heart attack in the middle of his anti-gay tirade. Here's where the film gets too heavy handed, the writing becomes forced, and I think a little more restraint was in order.

To their credit, the filmmakers attempt some balance by making Wesley's partner, Jonathon, a xenophobe who thinks every Latino he sees is a gangbanger. His hatred of Diego is motivated as much by racism as it is by jealousy. Rather than being a complete cartoon, Jonathan is given a reason to be afraid of the neighborhood; he grew up in a trailer in Mississippi and doesn't want to go through that again. Meanwhile, gays and Latinos alike have stopped patronizing the restaurant and Diego, who has never felt comfortable being out as a gay man here, wants to open his dream bistro in another city.

However, most of the movie is a comedy and there is no shortage of amusing and witty dialogue. I especially liked when Bianca told Diego to live a little and that he has plenty of time to meet a guy, settle down and adopt a crack baby. Diego is unable, at first, to confess his hook-ups with Pablo and when he hints that her new boyfriend might have done it with other guys, Bianca answers "So what! I've done it with girls. There was this Swedish model named Ingrid..."

East Side Story is a pleasant movie, professionally filmed and nicely acted by all. Irene DeBari is a delight as the grandmother who knows more about what is going on than she first lets on. There are genuine sparks between Diego and Pablo and between Diego and Wesley. There are sensuous kisses and several shirtless scenes but not much shown in the way of actual lovemaking. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just a change of pace for an American queer indie to not have a gratuitous sex scene at every available opportunity. What it certainly has is romance. As Diego says, "Latinos, we don't mess around. When we fall [for someone], we fall."

Most viewers will fall for this film too and, unlike me, will probably overlook its flaws. This one is perfect to curl up with a date and a bowl of popcorn.


Steve Callahan also appears in:
Make The Yuletide Gay
Pornography: A Thriller

Abrupt Decision