Movie Review By Monica Sullivan
The audience brings their own subtext into "Selena", opening nationally this week: Wherever they were and however they felt on Friday, March 31, 1995 when Selena, only 23, was killed by the fan club president who claimed to be her best friend. Selena's fans continue to idolize her: a Selena doll is in the works, her records continue to sell, her youthful beauty on the day of her death makes her a timeless inspiration for the little girls who will want to do likewise.
Selena's professional champion is her father Abraham, who serves as executive producer for Gregory Nava's 1997 film. As a member of a terrible teenaged trio, Abraham was bitten by the musical bug early. When his talent failed to rise to the level of his ambition, he poured all his energy into establishing his children in show business. His greatest hopes were for Selena, who seemed equally driven to pursue a singing career, however much she missed the rambunctious activities of a carefree childhood. With all the focus on Abraham's need to control the direction of Selena's professional life, the aforementioned audience subtext neutralizes its relevance: Let the kids play, Let Selena wear a bustier, Let her have a little fun with her future husband, Let her be a child, a teenager and a young woman, Give her a break, The clock is ticking.
As for the infamous Yolanda Saldivar, unsympathetically played by Lupe Ontiveros, it is never made clear why she was given carte blanche with Selena's business and why Selena, rather than her protective entourage, needed to have direct contact with Saldivar long after it was obvious that her disgruntled former employee had deep, deep problems. Selena's father didn't want Saldivar to be represented in the movie at all: As it is, we watch hours of a movie now released because of a real-life tragedy that's addressed in a very marginal way here. This is Selena's life: she accomplished much in her short life and then it was just over. Show the real Selena, roll the credits and go home.
Jennifer Lopez has the gift of making the audience love her, no matter how hokey the script and Constance Marie is excellent as her mother, Marcela. Edward James Olmos has a tougher job playing the unyielding Abraham and Dave Grusin's syrupy music doesn't help. Distressingly, for a movie so reliant on music, none of the concert numbers are well-balanced: Selena's small band drowns out most of the vocals. Biggest crowd reaction at the sneak preview was for Selena showing up a bigoted saleswoman in a classy boutique. Even so, "Selena" looks, sounds & feels like it was made for television, which is where it will wind up, sooner rather than later.
© 1997 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 3/19/97
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