A high school senior with college dreams and no financial means, Luz’s plans depend on her winning a weightlifting championship, which would award her a scholarship. Yet everything seems to conspire against her succeeding: a rocky self-confidence, a trouble-making boyfriend, a debt-ridden mother, an absent brother (his own college dreams already crushed by the military’s predatorial false promises), and the legacy of the good Chicana girl groomed to “stay here and help my family.”
White men will definitely not save brown women from brown men in All She Can. Luz, played by an excellent Corina Calderon, will do it all by herself. In fact, in her forgotten Texas town, where illegal immigrants are just as likely to end up as roadkill as good old deer, white men’s fantasy of compassionate heroism is completely missing in action. The film suggests it (compassionate heroism that is neither compassionate nor heroic) lives somewhere around Jalalabad, where Luz’s brother is serving, far away from the unveiled women of Benavides. With no support system in sight, Luz is forced to take desperate measures in order to escape from the suffocating space of the home into the promise land of the university, which includes steroid injections and a completely unnecessary, plot-wise, arson episode.
This isn’t the first time the figure of the “brown girl” left to her own devices to find a way out of “brown misery” has to do some crazy shit in order to prove herself worthy of entering the American Dream proper. Poor Catalina Sandino Moreno had to swallow something like 32 capsules full of heroin in Maria Full of Grace, Emily Rios kept the baby but lost the boyfriend and father figure/uncle in Quinceañera, and America Ferrera had to strip to her granny panties at her sweatshop of a workplace in order to proclaim that, well, Real Women Have Curves, another film in which a high schooler must choose between normative white dreams or backward cultural heritage.
For all of its formulaic missteps (too many twists, not enough lingering), All She Can does manage to approach the coming-of-age story of the Chicana girl unwilling to reproduce “her” culture without putting up a fight developing some unconventional threads. The unconventional choice of extra-curricular activity for Luz sheds light onto the strange sport of powerlifting, in which teen girls are constantly weighed and sometimes told that they have 40 minutes to get three pounds off their bodies so they can compete. There’s also a chilling school system in which every once in a while a voice will say through the classroom speakers, “Pardon de interruption. Teachers, please keep all students in your classroom until further notice,” prompting the students to line up like criminals, or air travellers, as the police dogs sniff their bodies for drugs.
All She Can manages to lay out a web of seemingly distant yet closely connected significations that produce the subaltern’s condition, along with her paralysis. The rhetoric of salvation deployed to justify international occupation is evidenced to be just that when there’s no helping hand in sight to drag the brown girl next door out of her state-produced dysfunction. The army appears as the ultimate perverse embodiment of an America so good at alluring with promises, then shooting the promised dead—sometimes point blank, sometimes with indifference.