Intriguing, Incomplete, Independent

Gabriela is a beautiful, inspirational love story, occasionally humorous, but with unfinished side stories

By Petra Davidson
Published on LatinoLA: July 3, 2002

Intriguing, Incomplete, Independent

Gabriela is the new girl at a mental health clinic, starting her job as a therapist. Her coworker Mike (Jaime Gomez), a social worker, falls in love with her, not knowing that she?s promised to Pat, a lawyer, whom she lives with.

Mike is friends with Douglas, who?s the biggest womanizer, while Mike is searching for real love, a thing Mike?s brother insists doesn?t exist ? ?you?ll either get hurt, or they die on you? is his brother?s philosophy as he holes up inside his apartment and paints.

Gabriela?s arrival at the clinic seems a blessing for Mike: She is perfect. Beautiful, soft-spoken, caring, friendly, a sense of humor and very grounded. She is just the woman he?s been looking for. The problem is, coming from an old-fashioned family background, Gabriela had to promise her mother that she would marry Pat when she moved in with him.

Gabriela is an independent film and the first hint at that, even without knowing it in advance, would be the film quality. The film is sometimes a bit grainy or a little off in color due to minimal lighting. However, at other times the film makes up for that with very beautiful shots.

The story between Mike and Gabriela was obviously the writer?s priority; it is well fleshed-out and develops throughout the film. In the effort of filling out their story, though, the writer failed to fill out the rest of the film properly.

The characters? work at the mental health clinic seems mostly limited to telling the patients that they made some nice wood blocks or that they should go ahead and make some more frames in their little workshop. There seems to be no real counseling or progress with these clients.

Gabriela?s supervisor meets with her for an evaluation and immediately starts telling Gabriela about her personal life experiences with her cheating, cruel-hearted husband and one wonders where such familiarity comes from between a supervisor and an employee who don?t know one another for that long and why it takes precedence over a job evaluation.

Another problem is that almost all scenes were written to underline how sweet, yet tormented by her pre-planned life Gabriella is. Her demure, sweet yet sensuous way is a little overboard when discussing the practicality of a pick-up truck. The film gives food for thought on the subject of family obligation vs. one?s own happiness but neglects to build a realistic background for the characters? lives.

Pat doesn?t seem particularly caring or interested in Gabriela. When he surprises Gabriela and Mike together at his home, he?s angry, but not hurt until he suggests she return his ring if she doesn?t want to marry him. When she seems to be willing to do just that, he suddenly breaks down crying, swearing she?s the only thing he?s got, and she returns the favor by breaking down herself and vowing her love for him.

If you?re looking for a thorough culture study, you?ll be left with many questions in Gabriela.

Why, if her mother isn?t even in the country and they seem to have very little contact, doesn?t Gabriela break her promise to marry Pat? The exploration of what the traditional ways of her culture mean to Gabriela is left out, so the viewer can arm himself with a dozen arguments as to why Gabriela could move on to live with Mike rather than Pat and there?s nothing there to argue those points.

Gabriela often speaks about being so busy with school and so many clients, but she spends an awful lot of time with Mike, seemingly never missed by her intended, Pat. And the relationship between Pat and Gabriela isn?t explored much, either. We know he?s not particularly caring and interested based on Gabriela?s statements, but the only time there?s an attempt to be established is when Pat insists to send off wedding invitations and Gabriela makes some half-hearted attempts at putting it all off for a little longer.

A short insertion of a problem not related to their relationship is a scene with a corrupt Mexican sheriff and his deputy pulling Mike over with their shotguns to collect a bribe as he follows Gabriela to her native Mexican town where she?s off to prepare for her wedding. Oddly enough, once Gabriela gets there, her mother soon realizes that something is not quite right, and she voluntarily suggests she needs a bit of time to cancel everything but Gabriela needs to tell her now if she wants that. Then the mother goes into some relationship talk and follows by insisting that if Gabriela had been intimate with this other guy she met, the marriage needs to be cancelled NOW!

It goes from ?no big deal, we can always cancel? to ?oh my god, if you?ve met someone else, we MUST cancel!? and Gabriela lies about her relationship with Mike. Why? Here?s the perfect opportunity to get things in order, especially since the mother is already mad now anyway.

As said, the redeeming part of this film is the love story it focuses on and with that being 80% of the film, it pulls the film back into the range of well worth watching ? that?s if you?re one for romance films. Of course, it?s probably no different in sense and realism than something like Pretty Woman or Serendipity, only that it wasn?t made on a giant waste of Hollywood budget and therefore not fine-tuned into perfection and neatly wrapped-up story lines with the exception of Gabriela and Mike.

The better characters outside the two leads are Douglas (Troy Winbush), Mike?s friend, and Gabriela?s grandmother. Douglas and Mike are complete opposites in their views on love, but they?re buddies and always there for each other for some guy talk which gets some humorous injections through Douglas? various schemes and lines he uses for his conquests.

Gabriela?s grandmother is played by Lupe Ontiveros whose long-time acting record (Born in East L.A., Picking up the Pieces, Selena, As Good as it Gets) obviously makes her stand out among the number of newcomers in this film.

The part of Gabriela is played by Seidy Lopez, who also starred in the independent stinker Luminarias in which she was the only female character consistently performing well in her part. With more funding to give Gabriela a pristine Hollywood quality appearance and a few extra minutes to give more time for back story exploration, this film would have been up there with Fools Rush In or any other romance film, but it also may have suffered in its individuality.

As it stands, Gabriela is a beautiful, inspirational love story with an occasional sprinkling of humor and some unfinished side stories, but for an independent, it is extremely good.

If we could give half stars, this would be a three and a half, deducting for the weaker back story and the occasional lighting problems. Three stars would make this film appear too mediocre in its rating, though, and it's definitely worth more than that.

About Petra Davidson:
Review originally published on http://www.epinions.com/user-petra
More on Gabriela at http://www.gabriela.net

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