A dimly obvious coming-to-terms-with-my-gay-son melodrama, Peter Bratt’s La Mission at least has the virtue of an intermittent interest in probing the circumstances that give rise to homophobia. Starring the director’s brother Benjamin as tough-guy Mexican-American Che Rivera, an ex-con and recovering alcoholic highly respected in his San Francisco neighborhood (the titular Mission District), the film charts that man’s growth from died-in-the-wool homophobe who denounces his recently outed son Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez) to accepting father following an 11th-hour revelation. Bratt takes pains to show the ingrained culture of machismo that rules Che’s Latino community and leads to a horror of homosexuality, but the writer-director’s one constructive insight—at least to those who’ve never taken a gender studies class or read Robin Wood—is that this same sublimated fear of one’s own masculine vulnerability that leads to violent anti-queer sentiment (“Men who exhibit extreme homophobia are often homosexuals themselves,” Jesse’s boyfriend fatuously informs a gay-baiting thug) is also the root cause of domestic abuse and may even account for the U.S. military’s cavalier attitude toward detainees.
It’s to the film’s considerable credit that it sustains its commitment to linking homophobia with male violence against women until the end (largely via a subplot involving Che’s unlikely romance with a gentrifying feminist neighbor), but this thematic nexus is filtered through so much unsound filmmaking that whatever benefits are to be derived from the director’s modest perceptivity are quickly negated. Following a simple dull-minded trajectory, the script is littered with trite dialogue (Dad: “I’m all you got”; son: “No, I got a lot more…I’ve got myself”) and padded with at least one too many of Che’s waffles between acceptance and rejection, sobriety and potential drunkenness.
Similarly, Bratt’s filmmaking is rife with dreadful conceits such as framing Jesse’s face with the left half distorted through the prism of a nightclub glass in order to emphasize the boy’s fractured identity, and staging Che’s revelation as a rapid cross-cut between Benjamin Bratt’s ponderous visage, images of a Day of the Dead pageant and flashbacks to Che’s abusive behavior. (Why must neophyte directors with little imagination always attempt the virtuoso?) The director’s one happy conceit, at least in theory, is to devote ample time to observing the culture of the neighborhood’s Latino community, but since, in Bratt’s conception, this culture seems to consist exclusively of fixing up cars and engaging in misogynistic chit-chat, this decision winds up registering as one more failing in a film already overstuffed with missteps.