25 Years Ago Movie Critics Were Giving Mixed Reviews On ‘I Like It Like That’

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When Darnell Martin is I like it like that Premiering at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival (and later opening in US theaters later that year), the film shot in the Bronx was groundbreaking. With her directorial debut, Martin became the first African-American filmmaker to helm a film produced by a major film studio. Not only that, but the fact that her project focused on an Afro-Latina living in the South Bronx made it one of the few Latin American stories to ever play on the Croisette. I like it like that follows Lisette Linares (Luna Lauren Velez, recently heard on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as the mother of Miles Morales), a young mother of three whose volatile relationship with her husband Chino (Jon Seda) is tested once he is imprisoned for petty theft.

As Linares tries to support her family (and keep her man away from the buxom neighbor who has her sights set on him and may well have been carrying her son), she lands a job as a personal assistant from a big record producer (Griffin Dune), who intends to sign a new Latin music group. With subplots that include a controversial father-son relationship that highlights the drug epidemic that plagued the city in the early 90s, and a sympathetic look at a trans character that gives voice to the violence that the community suffered at the hands of intolerant families, I like it like that is a snapshot of a community in all its complexities.

Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, this Independent Spirit Award-nominated film remains a classic. Not that you would know that from the mostly mixed reviews it received upon release. While pointing to its stellar cast, which also includes Rita Moreno, Jesse Borrego and Lisa Vidal, most critics downplayed its cultural specificity while noting that Velez and Martin were talents to watch. You can read five of those original reviews below. Unsurprisingly, none were written by women of color, who would no doubt have provided fascinating insight into their assessment of Martin’s cinema.

I Like It Like It was first released in theaters on October 14, 1994.

Empire

“Taking its title from the song played in the opening credits, writer-director Darnell Martin’s directorial debut is a warm, friendly embrace of a movie, light and fluffy but enjoyable for him. And if there’s any doubt left about the fact that it is still a ghetto oppression or a boring problem girlz and the hood riff, they are quickly undone by the film’s opening scene – a marathon mattress-bending session between leading lady Lisette Linares (Velez) and her sexually voracious Hispanic husband Chino (Seda). Unfortunately, Lisette soon discovers what a super stud her husband truly is after a misjudged robbery during a power outage lands him in jail and stories of his adventures sweep the neighborhood. Not one to give up and desperate for money to support her wayward children, she joins the ranks of the employees and gets sweet revenge the only way she knows how. — Caroline Westbrook

Weekly entertainment

“For the tenderness and generosity with which Martin explores life in his own backyard, I like it like that is most closely related to Spike Lee Crooklyn. But Martin’s particularly impressive gifts are a girlfriend sex appeal and practicality that is, I believe, inextricably part of his feminine sensibility. It’s a sensitivity that allows him to give Lisette a funny, believable transvestite brother who is neither a cartoon nor a tragic character; it’s also a sensibility that knows exactly how to compare breasts (Lisette hates that hers are small; a local vixen who wants to steal Chico licks herself because hers are big) in language as teasing and heartfelt as a subject as fundamental as it requires. ” — Lisa Schwarzbaum

New York Times

“Sometimes Ms. Martin has to blatantly manipulate her characters to move her film forward. And she has to fall back on the occasional stereotype. (Rita Moreno, as Chino’s horny Hispanic mother who brags about her “pure Castilian blood”, disparages Lisette’s black lineage and has no idea how to handle her three grandchildren, is the one of the film’s usually broad comedic figures.) But she brings such familiarity and affection for this material that he works exuberantly, with a keen appreciation of the speech and spine of all his characters. As an outspoken visual stylist who brings out the best in her actors, Ms. Martin has no difficulty bringing her story to life. — Janet Maslin

Variety

“Most unknown actors throw themselves into their roles with abandon and emerge attractively. Velez is convincing as she manages to cope while being on the brink most of the time, and Seda is doing well as a wayward young father torn in many directions. Dunne is OK as the head of music, while Moreno doesn’t have much to do as a haranguing mother. Pic passes at a strong urban pace and the technical credits are solid. Without delivering anything remarkable, Martin demonstrates that she knows how to manage with a camera and actors, and that she will certainly be heard in the future. — Todd McCarthy

Roger Ebert

“It’s not exactly a compelling plot, but what makes the film interesting is how Martin sees the details. Instead of looking for obvious contrasts between the two men in Lisette’s life, she sees the Similarities: Somehow they always have their eye on the clock. Neither of them believes that Lisette is as smart and capable as she obviously is. And the two make their decisions with their libido, not with their intelligence. Roger Ebert

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