Last night at the movies in Times Square I saw “Lowriders,” starring Theo Rossi, Gabriel Chavarria, Demián Bichir, and Eva Longoria. I had to see this one. Back in my Southern California high school days, I’d go watch the lowriders on Whittier Boulevard. This was in the late 1960’s when the lowriders played doo-wop on the radio and Thee Midnighters became the movement’s official troubadours.
But last night I was totally surprised. Theo Rossi, who played Juan Carlos “Juice” Ortiz in “Sons of Anarchy,” actually came to the theater to introduce the film, hand out posters and pose for photo ops.
“Lowriders” tells about Danny Alvarez, a teenage graffiti artist torn between his older brother (Theo Rossi) and his father. For three generations, the Alvarez family has built some of the most beautiful cars in Southern Cali. But they’ve also suffered from deaths in the family, alcoholism, parental abuse, and incarceration. Danny spends most of the movie trying to make peace between his self-destructive brother and old-school father (who listens to doo-wop) while struggling to express himself artistically.
The movie trades in familiar clichés — the abusive father, the rebellious son, a cross-cultural romance, and the impossible competition coming up in two weeks that will solve everybody’s financial problems. Despite the dramatic commonplaces, the cars and the passion for building them are fresh and exciting.
What I like most about the movie is that the family drama and car culture aren’t just thrown together. They are tightly unified. The movie conveyed the feeling that creating these works of rolling art is a deep expression of family love.
I was talking to a lowrider owner in the theater before the movie started. He had driven down from New Rochelle, New York with his wife and three young kids. At one point his daughter burst out, “My daddy owns a lowrider.” He said that people may think of them as outlaws, but they value family first and foremost.
“Lowriders” would make a great double feature with “La Mission” (2009) or “Boulevard Nights” (1979).