I admittedly have a lot of sentimental value and nostalgia attached to Luis Valdez’s “La Bamba” as it’s a film that not only was continuously played in my family, but the soundtrack on record was also constantly replayed. “La Bamba” itself is a solid bio pic of Ritchie Valens, an LA teenager and Chicano rock and roll star who skyrocketed to fame, and died in one of the most infamous plane crashes in world history. Valens’ life was cut short way before he could even reach his twenties, but director and writer Luis Valdez does his best to explore the life of Valens before he stepped on to the ill fated “American Pie” with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.
Lou Diamond Phillips gives a very down to Earth and career making role as the talented rock and roll star who, like everyone else, had a love for music and was inspired by the love of a woman to offer some of his most entertaining music. While “La Bamba” focuses on the rise of Ritchie Valens, the movie is mainly a teen romance and family film. Diamond Phillips plays Ritchie as a young man with huge aspirations who begins to take everyone up with him. He garners the resentment of older brother Bob, though, who grows more and more jealous of him as he watches his younger brother hit it big. Ritchie’s fame is so sudden he can’t even believe it, but Bob views it more as an underhanded scheme to minimize him; especially when we get to see him as someone with unfulfilled dreams and his own burdens.
Esai Morales is another cast member who pulls in a very good performance, working well off of Diamond Phillips as a very resentful and often petty side character. Along the way we get to see that not all of Valens’ life was filled with turmoil, as he rises up as a music star, and gets to team up with a small time record executive (Joe Pantoliano) who becomes a genuine friend. There’s also the very compelling romance between Ritchie and love of his life Donna, both of whom become kindred spirits at a time where a young white woman dating a Latino male was considered risky and incredibly defiant of social norms. “La Bamba” garners a ton of great performances from Pantoliano, Danielle Von Zernick, Rosanna DeSoto, and the late Elizabeth Peña.
While it’s true Valens’ life was short, Luis Valdez offers up a unique, heartfelt, and interesting biopic with top notch performances, and a strong statement about the fleeting, fragility of life, and the bond between brothers.