There is a moment in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter where Amá (Charín Alvarez), mother of protagonist Julia, deliberately rips pages from her daughter’s prized journal in half. It’s an act of desecration that makes us gasp. But as Julia learns, her mother has had so much torn apart in her own life as a working-class Mexican immigrant that the symbolic lashing out may be one of the few ways she has to channel her own grief and rage. And though the relationships here are ruptured and cannot be put back together as they were, there is always a chance for a child to later reconstruct the parts of their parents’ story that can’t always be seen clearly through the emotional haze and hormones of adolescence.
Adapted by Isaac Gómez from Erika L. Sánchez’s bestselling young adult novel, this Steppenwolf for Young Adults offering (directed by Sandra Marquez) packs a lot of hard truths into its 90-minute running time. Anchored by a breathtakingly vulnerable performance from Karen Rodriguez (an acting muse to Gómez for several years now) as Julia, it’s alternately funny and heartbreaking, harsh and compassionate.
Julia tries to figure out the secrets left behind by her seemingly perfect now-dead older sister, Olga (Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller) and deal with her growing attraction to Connor (Harrison Wegner), a wealthy white boy from Evanston. With the help of her friends and a sympathetic teacher, she also learns to trust her voice as a writer. A trip to her family’s small hometown in Mexico throws a blinding light on the sacrifices her parents made.
The entire cast is terrific, but ultimately it’s the mother-daughter relationship that resonates strongest here. Alvarez and Rodriguez bring bruising anger and galvanizing grace to their performances. It may well make you weep. v