22 September 2013 | gradyharp
'I don't think we're in Kansas anymore'
EL MARIACHI GRINGO is a little film with a quiet but sincere message. It is obviously a low budget film based on a screenplay by Cory Krueckenberg and directed sympathetically by Tom Gustafson, both men rather new to these two role assignments. The reason the film works is the sense of honesty about it.
The film opens in Kansas were life is rather boring, especially for a 30-year-old young man Edward (Shawn Ashmore), on some medication for what seems to be a form of mental illness, who still lives with his parents (Kate Burton and Tom Wopat) and has not found a direction for his life. He has studied music, plays the guitar occasionally, and one day he wanders into a town Mexican restaurant called El Mariachi where he is befriended by Rosario (Yareli Arizmendi) and Alberto (Fernando Becerril) who plays guitar and sings to the customers. Alberto shares his basement model of the city of Guadalajara where he recalls singing with the Mariachis in Mariachi Square who simply make a living singing for the people to help them celebrate their lives. Edward absorbs the dream of playing music for the people, takes lessons in Mariachi from Alberto, settles with his disapproving parents, and is off to Mexico. At first out of place in Guadalajara he soon meets Lilia (the very beautiful and talented Martha Higareda) working in her mother Magdalena's (Adriana Barraza) café. With Lilia (who had studied in Santa Cruz, CA and longs to go back to her dream) and Mariachi singer Sophia (Lila Downs) he is introduced to the field of real Mariachi singing, becomes accepted as the Gringo Mariachi, wins some fame, but after a brief trip back to Kansas for an unexpected funeral, Edward returns to Guadlajara to find things have changed - but he still has followed his dream and is quietly happy.
There are significant subplots that aren't well explored, but the film does not try to be anything it isn't - it is just about following your dreams no matter the obstacles or consequences or surprises. The cast is competent, the music is a highlight, and the take away feeling is one of tenderness and caring.