“Gringa” – Groaner [MOVIE REVIEW]
As Fats Domino sang so eloquently, “Ain’t that a shame.” “Gringa,” the assured directing debuts of Marny Eng and E.J. Forester is thoroughly undermined by an inadequate script. Eng and Forester more than do their jobs by keeping things moving and trying to bring out the development of all their characters. To say that Patrick Hasburgh’s script let them down is an understatement.
Margie, the awkward teenage daughter of Marge, a beautiful and clever real estate agent, is trying desperately to fit in. An adequate soccer player, she’s in above her head with the local club team and constantly denigrated by her teammates and her coach. When her mother is suddenly killed (it happens too early in the film to be a spoiler), and she is faced with living with her unloving grandparents, she makes a run for the border, literally and figuratively. Rumor has it, well more than rumor, that her dad, Jackson, the pro soccer player who abandoned them when she was two, lives in Mexico. Determined to find him, she boards a bus to Lo de Marcos, his town on the beach, and leaves everything behind. Surprising him might have been a mistake. Jackson is a shaggy beach bum who surfs all day, when he isn’t drinking. Cheery and a beloved eccentric, he doesn’t have a lot going for him but his charm, a charm that has, nevertheless, attracted Elsa, a beautiful, level-headed bar owner. His side gig of coaching the town’s girls’ soccer team may have a lot to do with that acceptance.
Adjusting gradually to one another, Margie goes from la gringa (the derogatory term for the Anglo girl) to amiga (friend) when she joins her dad’s team and begins to blossom. She accepts the culture and they accept her. But all is not well in paradise and she decides to run again. And here is where the story begins to fall apart.
There are more holes in this yarn than swiss cheese (if Hasburgh can deal in cliches, then so can I). There’s a bad romance storyline and an escape back across the border with her best Mexican girlfriend who’s only along for the ride. Dad to the rescue, daughter back home, a soccer tournament against her former club team (and you know how that’s going to turn out) and then college. Now somewhere along the line she must have gone to school because she was only 16 when she arrived and there didn’t seem to be a school anywhere. The suspension of belief necessary to get from the beginning to the end, with almost everything missing in the middle is a bridge too far.
I generally land squarely on the side of the writer but in this case, absolutely not. The problems are all with the story and what is left out of the narrative that has you scratching your head from start to finish. This is a black hole of good will squandered because the cast does a lot of heavy lifting only to see it drown in the ocean that is a character in itself. It’s not just that the previously unathletic Margie becomes a world class surfer almost overnight or that her hidden soccer skills are unleashed while playing for a rather ragtag team, it’s that there is no timeline for any of the actions in this movie to take place.
Jess Gabor as Margie does most of the heavy lifting. She is charming and awkward and tries to make all of her adventures believable, an impossible task. Her local bestie, soccer teammate and informal coyote across the border is played by the beautiful Valentina Buzzurro as Azusana. Her actions in aiding Margie are narratively exploitative, set up only to put Azsusana in mortal danger as they try to cross the border. Also unexplained is how they got across. I guess it didn’t matter dramatically because the next thing we see is that they’ve landed on the U.S. side and bypassed immigration. Roselyn Sanchez as Jackson’s sweetie, Elsa, has the expositional role. She calms everyone’s tempers and relays how things are going. She really deserved better.
Jorge A. Jimenez as the local priest and assistant soccer coach is believable, funny and compassionate. He brings more to the role than the script deserved. Steve Zahn as Jackson is really left hanging. We are meant to believe that this alcoholic beach bum cleans up his act within the space of a month, leads a team of mediocre soccer players to an international tournament at the border, and takes fatherly duties in hand while sending his uneducated daughter, for all intents and purposes, off to college and a soccer future. Zahn deserved better material but I did, honestly, expect him to make more of the role, even as clumsily as it was written. The only one who really escapes scrutiny is Judy Greer as Margie’s mother. She’s cheery, supportive and killed off almost immediately.
Forewarned is forearmed.
Opening April 21 at the Arena Cinelounge in Hollywood and on VOD.