“Someone Great” is not your average rom-com, and its protagonist, Jenny, played by Gina Rodriguez, is not your stereotypical Latina.
While Jenny’s offbeat humor, ravenous career drive and nuanced relationships portray a Latinidad, or Latin identity, uncommon on the big screen, her Spanglish and “Latina AF” T-shirt show she is far from denying her cultural heritage. As a Colombian-American raised across two continents with an adolescent addiction to all things alternative, I saw myself in Jenny’s embrace of the eccentric and in her adaptable identity.
At the beginning of the movie, the camera closes in on a Polaroid picture of young love between Jenny, an up-and-coming music journalist, and Nate (Lakeith Stanfield), her soon-to-be ex. “Idiots,” says a disheveled Jenny, clutching the photo. “I don’t know if you know this, ma’am,” Jenny continues to the reluctant stranger she’s seated next to on the subway, “but love’s a lie.” Reeling from her breakup, the 29-year-old calls upon her college crew to join her for one last New York City adventure before she heads to San Francisco to start her dream job. We come for the nostalgia of the last hurrah, and stay for the enduring charm of this girl gang. With hilarity reminiscent of “Broad City,” the trio fumbles through a range of antics, from a failed attempt to acquire music festival tickets from a trust-funder’s drug-stocked loft to a priceless dance montage set to Lil’ Kim’s “The Jump Off.”
Rarely do we see a Latina-led rom-com that doesn’t hinge on either the labor of Latinas (a la “Maid in Manhattan”) or the tokenization of Latinidad (think “Fools Rush In”). Throughout “Someone Great,” Jenny fluidly switches from English to Spanish — although, as a recent Remezcla article notes, she does so almost exclusively with non-Spanish-speaking individuals — professional to casual, sincere to side-splittingly funny. She listens to as much indie music as she does hip-hop, while understanding that the key to mending a broken heart is belting Selena’s “Dreaming of You” with your girlfriends in a bodega late at night.
Jenny leans into her idiosyncrasies. She talks sweat, sex and body hair with abandon. She day-drinks and dances pantless to playlists that swerve from Lizzo to LCD Soundsystem. Her personal style can be described as ’90s chic and careless; As RuPaul’s character Hype tells Jenny, “You look crazy, but also real sexy.” Rodriguez’s performance shows us a Latinidad by addition, not subtraction.
Growing up, I loved Colombian salsa singer Joe Arroyo as much as Radiohead. Reggaeton star J Balvin lives alongside Bomba Estéreo and David Bowie in my Spotify Top Songs playlists. As a teenager, I’d sneak into midnight shows in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday nights but make sure to be minty fresh by Sunday morning. My family dinners include hybrid strands of Spanglish that range from the cartagenero accents of my mother’s coastal Colombia to the hacked off vowels that my father grew up speaking in Portsmouth, England. I felt profound power in Rodriguez’s performance of a multilayered, second-generation existence. Jenny defines herself beyond her cultural context, without being divorced from her heritage — and that, unexpectedly, gave me permission to do the same.
The role seems a natural next step for Rodriguez, a Hispanic Scholarship Fund board member who announced her engagement during a plug about donating period products to girls in need. Rodriguez is best known as the titular character in “Jane the Virgin,” a popular series that plays with cultural tropes — the show is formatted as a telenovela, narrated by a “Latin Lover.” “Someone Great” doesn’t rely on tropes to constitute the backbone of a Latina’s story line. Following in the footsteps of Chicanx punk icon Alice Bag and emblems of on-screen independence like the ladies of “Mi Vida Loca,”
As we follow the digital bread crumbs of Jenny and Nate’s relationship, we also trace Jenny’s career as a music journalist, from her first column at Complex to a thrilling job offer: a senior position at Rolling Stone. By focusing on Jenny’s career without incorporating cultural expectations or shaping the narrative using a neat romantic trajectory, the movie marks a new era in Latina millennial representation. There is no tía, or aunt, in the background, hand on hip, launching into a speech about the instability of a writing career. There is no mother wringing her hands at the inevitability of her hija (daughter) dying unmarried. Even Nate is portrayed in a ghostly manner, seen solely through cheeseball flashbacks that only propel viewers further into the arms of our leading lady.
“Someone Great” moves from the cure-all of female friendship to a dynamic portrayal of millennial Latina coming of age. It rides comfortably on the coattails of early films featuring Latinas, yet absolves itself of any allegiance to entertainment’s stereotypical renderings of Latinidad. We leave Jenny hung over but happy in Washington Square Park in the early hours of the morning. With a little help from her friends, she’s ready to helm her own destiny, however messy or daunting that may be. Of her decision to take the Rolling Stone gig, Jenny says, “I guess in that moment I was choosing myself,” and it’s refreshing to watch an on-screen Latina — unbound by familial, cultural and economic barriers — make that choice.