Nicole, a self-destructive privileged white girl hailing from Pacific Palisades, and Carlos, a Latino from humble roots thirsty to make something out of himself, fall in love. Although the film fits all the characteristics of a conventional ‘teen flick,’ it goes about portraying the usual high-school romance by exposing the edgier underbelly of cultural differences. Nicole is the troubled and troublesome daughter of a Congressman. Carrying baggage from her mother’s suicide, she is hell-bent on destroying her young life.
Too much partying, drinking, drug abuse and absolutely no respect for any authority-figure have earned her nothing but a string of police charges. Her relationship with her father is strained. Her overly paranoid and judgmental stepmother does nothing to ease the tensions between father and daughter. Carlos is the complete opposite of Nicole. He is a straight-laced and hardworking student. Coming from an impoverished single-parent Latino background, he knows he has to do better than the average in order to live out his dreams.
He carries on his young shoulders the dreams of his poor family. He is to all intents and purposes, the great white hope. Congressman Oakley, Nicole’s frustrated and somewhat clueless father, does not know how to deal with his daughter’s behavior at all. And like many who are at a loss as to how to handle a situation, he simply has stopped trying. Although he is portrayed as an absent father, the viewer gets the feeling that it is a distance driven not by malice but by hopelessness. He is not cold or uncaring. One does feel the tremendous love he has for Nicole.
Perhaps it is this somewhat misguided love that makes him turn a blind eye to all her indiscretions. It is as if he, like her, is carrying around some guilt for her mother’s suicide. How it all began… As punishment for a drunken driving charge, Nicole underwent a community service program to pick up litter at the beach. On the very same day, Carlos and his friends are there. They spot Nicole and are intrigued by the little-white-miss who was obviously there as a result of a bad deed. Carlos’ friends gain an introduction and this is when we learn that Carlos and Nicole go to the same school.
It is interesting to note that although they go to the same school, they made their formal introduction outside of it—at the beach, while she was doing community service. In retrospect, one can say that on the day she met him, she was actually taking responsibility for her actions. This turn of events will later be echoed throughout the entire film. He really was her saving grace. In turn, through her, he was able to enjoy what was left of his adolescence. Before he met her, he was much too serious and gave him no room for error.
Although at times she was clearly a bad influence on him, she could be a breath of fresh air in what could otherwise be known as his stuffy, somewhat narrow, existence. Carlos’ entry into Nicole’s life ushered in a much-needed change. To her, he embodied a fresh new love. He gave her something to live for or at least, a reason to stop being so self-destructive. One can also see this mirrored in the film. In the beginning, all she is concerned with is partying with her friends and flouting any authority imposed upon her. When they began to form an intimate relationship, we see a different side of her.
We start seeing the softer, thoughtful and sweeter Nicole. This can be best seen when she surprised him to go on his very first airplane ride. Although she did not stop being the old Nicole right away as she convinced him to skip work to go with her, her manipulation did not come with the usual bad ending. She was just genuinely trying to give him a memorable experience. In the later scenes, we can see how her creative nature is more pronounced in the film. She is taking more pictures and being more artistic. As if he were her muse.
They were brought together by circumstances that made both realize that the other person had traits that they wanted to have. Nicole made Carlos feel more adventurous, more fun-loving. Carlos, in turn, made Nicole feel safe and secure. Although they are poles apart from the personality spectrum, they root their love for each other on one basic premise: you never give up on the person you love. This was the main lesson for Nicole, Carlos and especially, Nicole’s father. In the love that his daughter shared with Carlos, he found where he had gone wrong as a parent.
Although the unconditional love was still there, he had stopped believing that anything good was ever going to come out of his daughter. Dreaming Up, Blaming Down In the academic discussion of social ladders, the concept of ‘dreaming up, blaming down’ is introduced. To be brief, this concept is a theory that Americans “tend to blame those below them on the social ladder for their lack of success while dreaming of reaching the top rung themselves. ” This sociological phenomenon, while it may be correct is some contexts, does not figure prominently in the film.
The film showed the extremes of status and privilege. We see the tremendous difference between how the wealthy and poor live but do not see the more privileged class blaming the lower one for their failures. Neither Nicole nor her father outwardly put the blame on the lower classes for the situation they are in. The problems that Nicole are undergoing have no connection to any societal problems. Her problems are rooted on emotional and psychological issues, not societal ones. However, in society, this idea of ‘dreaming up, blaming down’ can probably be seen in the middle class.
For example, when a man loses his job, there can be a tendency to blame the immigrants who settle in the United States. In many respects, the immigrants could be considered as being situated lower in the social ladder. So when a white person loses his job, it is easier blaming that loss on the ‘unwanted’ and ‘uninvited. ’ The explanation for this mentality is a very straightforward mathematic and economic concept: the more people there are in a country, the less resources there are to go around. This could explain the clamor for stricter border control.
And while illegal immigration is a huge problem, the blame cannot be put on one single individual. The problem is much larger than that. If one were to comment on the film by employing a Marxist perspective, the film depicts a society where power and wealth always go hand in hand. Even getting out of poverty is something that only the wealthy can help one with. For example, in the film, Carlos is trying to get into the Naval Academy. Throughout the movie, his work ethic and his integrity are immediately apparent.
There is no doubt in the viewer’s mind that he would make an excellent candidate. However, just because his attitude and grades merit him a spot in the program, he still has to get a sponsorship from a Congressman. Although it was fortunate that Nicole’s father happened to be a Congressman, it just goes to show that even the most talented person has to be go through the powerful and wealthy to work his way out of an impoverished life. And this is how Marx would argue for social equality as a departure from inequality based on unequal distribution of power and wealth.