Review: 'La Gradua' Is a Clever, Dark Comedy on Life After College

April 20 2017

[caption id="attachment_289913" align="aligncenter" width="1445"]“La Gradua” is currently playing in San Francisco at Grand Lake Theater. “La Gradua” is currently playing in San Francisco at Grand Lake Theater.[/caption]

Written and directed by Adrian Manzano, whose first film “Sex, Love, Salsa” won several awards in the film festival circuit, “La Gradua” centers on Miosotis (Sofia Rodriguez), a Dominican 23-year old Liberal Arts college graduate who comes back to the Bronx to live with her overbearing and brassy grandmother to pursue an acting career.

Miosotis is welcomed by her big Dominican family with a party in a frenetic early scene. It’s all a bit of a culture shock for Miosotis, who’s been away from her Dominican roots for 4 years and she’s feeling a little overwhelmed. She aspires to become a theater actress in the city; she literally can picture herself as the main attraction in the next billboard for Broadway’s next hit.

Miosotis meets Travis (Theodore Copeland), an eccentric white hipster and “filmmaker”, at a Latin nightclub. He romances the young graduate with hopes of making her a star in one of his experimental films. Grandma “abuelita” is happy about their new romance since Travis is “blanquito” (white) and, in grandma’s own words, can better the race or “mejorar la raza”.

Miosotis lands an internship opportunity after an interview with an insolent and obnoxious manager whom our naïve millennial puts up with congenially after he makes several racist jokes about her background and name. Miosotis discovers fairly quickly in the film that her unpaid office internship, or what Miosotis’ grandmother calls “slavership” and “internshit”, hardly resembles the aspiring actress’ true passion. Life with her overbearing grandmother who’s raised her isn’t ideal either, as she is less-than supportive of her granddaughter’s unpaid gig. To add to her troubles, Miosotis ex-boyfriend is coming back home after a few months of living overseas, threatening her new relationship with Travis and with her grandmother.

In one key audition scene, Miosotis is directed to act like a “street” single mother begging Rapper “GE” (Tommy Pena) to claim her baby as the father for the rapper’s next video. The scene is both outlandishly funny and realistically unsettling, especially towards the end of the audition as “GE” and Miosotis are practically faking copulation before the rapper is directed to “pull out”. Manzano takes a lot of risks with "Gradua’s" unconventional storytelling, which accounts for several farcical situations that are ridden with sarcastic commentary on modern-day relationships, sexism, racism, gentrification and the millennial generation.

Standout performances include Miosotis' grandmother, played by the uproarious 83-year-old Gloria Almanzar, and real-life artist and rapper Oveous, who plays Miosotis' live-in cousin; his spoken word scenes highlight the film. However, it’s Sofia Rodriguez’s charismatic performance and watchable quality that anchor “La Gradua”. Miosotis also explores her very own identity and how she fits in: she’s Dominican but also American, clearly Afro-descendant, black?

Many filmmakers would wait to raise more money to make a story like this into a feel-good movie with a neat and happy ending, but Manzano exploits his film’s micro budget and does it his way. With plenty of hilarity and unique quirks, "La Gradua" works as a bold and clever satire – somewhat reminiscent of Issa Rae’s “Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” - about life after college for an aspiring actress of color in the city. The dark comedy captures the trials and tribulations of many of today’s millennial Latinos in equal doses of reality and absurdity. It’s a refreshing departure from formulaic filmmaking.

Co-directed by Rosie Berrido from PBS’s "Tales of a Ghetto Klown," "La Gradua" also stars Gloria Almanzar, Zahaira Curiel, Shawtane Bowen, Natalie Kim, Susan Moon, Stacie Capone, Jaime Fernandez and Oscar Martinez.

Read our interview with director Manzano on the making of "La Gradua" here.

“La Gradua” is currently playing in San Francisco at Grand Lake Theater.

Watch a trailer for the film below:

by Vanessa Martinez on April 20 2017

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