American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Selena'' brings freshness and heart to the life story of a little girl from Corpus Christi, Texas, who had big dreams and was lucky enough to realize almost all of them before her life was cut short. Selena Quintanilla was poised to become the first female singer to cross over from Spanish to English markets when she was shot dead on March 31, 1995.
By the time she died, the English-speaking Selena (Jennifer Lopez) had conquered the Spanish charts, dominated Mexican-American pop music, and even won acceptance in Mexico, despite her shaky Spanish and an American accent. She'd had No. 1 hits, won a Grammy, and was about to go on tour to promote her first English album. "Everybody's gonna wonder how I learned English so fast,'' she joked. Then it all ended when an employee shot her in an argument over theft.
"Selena," written and directed by Gregory Nava ("El Norte," "My Family"), places her firmly inside a close, loving family. From the very beginning, "Selena y Los Dinos'' was a family act, guided by her father, Abraham (Edward James Olmos), and including sister Susie (Jackie Guerra) on drums and brother Abie (Jacob Vargas) on guitar. They toured county fairs and played school dances, and Abraham even opened a restaurant just so he could book his kids as the entertainment (Selena's big crowd-pleaser was "Over the Rainbow''). It was slow going at first, and when Abraham insisted Selena start singing in Spanish, the young teenager rebelled: "I don't want to learn to sing in Spanish! I don't even *like* Spanish music. I like Donna Summer.'' Abraham tells her she has to sing from the inside, from what she is, and she is Mexican-American, between two worlds, and that's tough: "The Americans jump all over us because we don't speak perfect English, and then the Mexicans jump all over us because we don't speak perfect Spanish.'' So Selena learns from her father to sing Spanish and eventually to speak it, and becomes a regional star of Tejano music--the unique South Texas blend that formed in the early 1900s when Mexican bands mixed in the accordion music of their Czech and Polish neighbors.
The movie opens with Selena singing "I Will Survive'' to a packed house in the Houston Astrodome, and then flashes back to the early life of her father, who formed a rock 'n' roll group named "The Dinos.'' Like his daughter many years later, he found himself caught between two worlds: Anglo clubs didn't want Chicano bands, and Mexican clubs wanted Spanish dance music. After one appearance ends in a fight, a cop asks Abraham, "What'd y'all do?'' He answers, "We sang `We Belong Together.' '' Abraham's band fails, but he starts again, bringing home second-hand instruments to begin a family group, despite the doubts of his wife, Marcella (Constance Marie). In one of the movie's most charming scenes, the family has hit bottom; Abraham promises Selena someday she'll be a big star "and go to Disneyland.'' Then Marcella hears a familiar song on the radio, and teaches her daughter to dance to it, giving her the trademark of perpetual motion onstage.