Called a "feel good movie" by its fans, this appealing debut film of director Carlos Portugal suffers from no freshman errors, as Portugal confidently tells the story of Diego (played by the wonderful and charming René Alvarado), a young, closeted Latino, who helps his grand-mother (standout Irene DeBarri) run the family restaurant while carrying on a clandestine relationship with equally closeted Pablo (the delightful David Beron).
Diego has long felt trapped by the conservative culture of East LA and plans to move away and open an upscale restaurant, hopefully with his lover. But Pablo views their situation very differently - a point driven home when he begins dating Diego's spirited Aunt Bianca (hilarious sexpot Gladise Jimenez). At the same time, white gay men like Jonathan and Wesley are moving in, gentrifying the neighborhood. The attraction between Wesley and Diego is immediate and electric, forcing both men to reexamine their state of affairs in this entertaining comedic drama.
A "coming out" story that avoids all the tired cliches and stays committed to telling the stories of these characters, East Side Story examines bias of all kinds and features stirring performances by incredibly attractive actors. This story sweetly appeals to the romantic impulses of us all, gay and straight.
Handsome restaurateur Diego (Rene Alvarado, Fall to Grace
) thinks he has the perfect boyfriend--until Pablo (David Beron, Honor Thy Father and Mother: The True Story of the Menendez Murders
) makes it clear he's not coming out of the closet, in case it might threaten his real estate business. Of course, Diego himself isn't out at work--until his flighty aunt Blanca (Gladys Jimenez, Tremors: The Series
) casually reveals this to the homophobic staff. Heartbroken and alienated at work, Diego gets distracted when Wesley (Steve Callahan, Nine Lives
) and Jonathan (Cory Schneider, The M.O. of M.I.
), two hunky guys who are apparently allergic to shirts, move in next door. But as sparks start to fly with Wesley, Jonathan attempts to use racial strife as a tool against Diego. For a low-budget gay romance, East Side Story
has broad ambitions, juxtaposing racism and homophobia without getting too heavy-handed with either. The script and the acting are a little wooden, but sincere warmth, flippant humor, unapologetic directness about its characters' lives, and a lot of well-muscled bodies give this movie its appeal. Irene DeBari, as Diego's grandmother, provides a lot of the movie's heart. --Bret Fetzer