So will mariachi music make it big in the US? Will mariachi be what hipster kids will be downloading off of the iTunes? Has mariachi music cracked the top 200 charts? Will I ever wear clean underwear again? The answer is no to all these questions. But if the question was, can a white guy from Kansas travel to Mexico and become a mariachi, then the answer is yes, but only if he’s “The Mariachi Gringo.” Let’s head South of the Border and see what kind of trouble our protagonist can get himself into in this rather compelling, serious indie film that has been the darling of indie film festivals for the past year. Ariba!
Edward (Shawn Ashmore) is an underachieving 30-year-old still living at home in a rural Kansas town with no plans to really make anything out of life. His parents are patient with him but he senses that they aren’t too happy with him becoming like them—spending large amounts of time at home watching TV with no interest in expanding their cultural horizons. The one thing Edward finds solace in is playing his acoustic guitar and jamming out on mariachi music. Again, we remind you this is Kansas, not exactly the capital of progressiveness. Yet, when a Mexican restaurant opens up he is drawn to it, finding a mentor in the owner Alberto, a former mariachi. Edward manages to become part of Alberto’s family and his passion for Mariachi music grows even further. Since Kansas isn’t exactly the hotbed for aspiring mariachi performers, Edward leaves his hometown and finds himself in Guadalajara, Mexico, immersing himself in the mariachi scene. This proves that a white guy can also travel to Mexico and find work leaving one less job available for a Mexican national. Guess that means there will be one extra person “tunneling” their way North.
So when you have a film following a White guy going down to Mexico with just a guitar case in hand with hopes of breaking into a genre of music that’s 99.9% performed by Mexicans, you kind of expect laughs along the way. Mariachi Gringo is actually a bit of a serious look at Edward going through a new stage in his life, experiencing things he wasn’t aware were out there in the world. He’s taken in by Lilia (Martha Higareda), an attractive restaurateur who gets into a very complicated situation with Edward, which also complicates issues she’s dealing with on her own. There are very few laughs and the film does verge on taking itself too seriously at times. But at least we’re treated with more depth regarding these characters which, had this been played out as a comedy about US/Mexican cultural differences, the character’s back story would’ve been zipped by completely.
But let’s be honest, it would have been funny seeing Edward trying to adapt to living in, what is essentially a new world to him. With some tense moments throughout the film, a laugh or two would’ve been a nice icebreaker and moved the story along much more quickly.
At just over 90 minutes, there are some slow moments here and some issues regarding Lilia never get explained fully. Especially in a family-centered, religiously devout country, it makes sense to explore how living in Mexico with these particular issues have affected her. Also, the ease in which Edward is accepted into the world of mariachi just seems to happen a little too quickly, especially considering how serious Mexicans take mariachi. It is however refreshing to see one of Mexico’s greatest singer actresses Lila Downs in a very strong performance as the lead singer in a mariachi band that agrees to take Edward in, but for reasons Edward thinks are pretty shitty. However, the band does realize he knows his mariachi and is a good fit for their band. The story may be a little far-fetched, but it’s not entirely farcical.
Mariachi Gringo is a coming of age story in which Edward realizes that in order to find your way in this world, you sometimes have to leave your house, buy a bus ticket to some far away land and let the chips fall where they may. Things don’t always work out as planned and there is a bit of a Greek tragedy element by the end. Yet as the film progresses, Edward becomes more mature and gets closer to his goal of being a full-fledge mariachi. And as out of place as he may seem traveling with a mariachi band, Edward adapts and overcomes several cultural obstacles, earning the acceptance of even the most hardcore mariachi purists. Is the story believable, at least somewhat? Yes. Is it flawless? Hardly. But Mariachi Gringo gives us a unique look in which to achieve your dreams, you must make many sacrifices along the way.
Do a Shot: once the idea of a white guy dreaming of playing mariachi music has stopped becoming unbelievable
Take a Drink: when you realize why Lilia doesn’t go all the way with Edward
Do a Shot: when Edward arrives to Mexico and is set up by the Mexican police.
Take a drink: when Lilia convinces the police not to arrest this person they’re framing that she’s never met before because, that of course happens all the time in Mexico.