“Lowriders” is as clichéd as movies come, but it offers a rare window into a world that most know nothing about. Set in East Los Angeles, the film uses Hispanic car culture as the backdrop to tell the story of wayward street artist Danny (Gabriel Chavarria), who is consistently disappointing his old school mechanic dad Miguel (Demián Bichir), a recovering alcoholic remarried to the feisty and strong Gloria (Eva Longoria). Danny’s troubled brother Francisco “The Ghost” (Theo Rossi) gets released from prison and causes even more discord within the family. There are conflicting values that cause a whole lot of melodrama, but thankfully the film never gets too bogged down in landslides sermon-like moralizing.
The film is gloriously low-budget in both its look and feel, giving director Ricardo de Montreuil a challenging lens through which to shoot the streets of Los Angeles. It’s a new and fresh look at the city, punched up with shots of bouncing, thundering, rousing, hydraulic-fueled lowrider cars. Auto fiends take note: there are some pretty rad looking vehicles throughout his movie! The cars become their own characters here, extensions of their owners’ personalities that are worn like badges of honor and machismo. The film is adept at conveying Mexican-American cultural pride without ever becoming stereotypical or losing even one sliver of authenticity.
Although this is a predictable story with all the usual familial strife, the script is balanced by earnest performances and an engaging look into a culture that’s grossly underrepresented onscreen.