Gringa stars Jess Gabor as Marge, an awkward teenager struggling in school and on the soccer field. Marge’s mom, Margie (Judy Greer), is a busy but not quite successful real estate agent. Though she loves her daughter, the two see little of each other as Margie hustles to give them a life. Everything changes when Margie is killed in a tragic car accident. Facing the prospect of moving to Arizona with her stern and unyielding grandparents, Marge decides to set her own path.
Having learned that her former soccer star and current deadbeat dad, Jackson (Steve Zahn), is living in a beachfront shack in small village in Mexico, Marge decides to sneak across the border for an impromptu reunion. What she finds is a debauched alcoholic who when he isn’t asleep is usually drunk or surfing. Dad also coaches Girl’s Soccer in town, an obligation he gave himself in order to win the attention of Elsa (Roselyn Sanchez), a local bar owner, way out of Jackson’s league, but who can’t fully resist his charm.
The dramatic father-daughter reunion is sad but also deeply awkward. Neither knows how to take the other. Jackson is sympathetic to the death of Margie, he did love her once, but he’s also a stunted man-child so his sympathies only go so far. Marge herself is rightfully bitter toward the father who abandoned her. These early scenes have a strong emotional charge as Jess Gabor and Steve Zahn wrestle with the complicated emotions at play. These are the strongest moments of Gringa.
Less strong are later scenes of forced melodrama. After father and daughter reach a tentative peace, they set a 30 day deadline. At this deadline, Marge will have to return to her grandparents unless Dad says she can stay. This rings false as the two bond so strongly during these 30 days, her playing soccer on his team, her helping to bring him closer to Elsa, the two surfing together, that when it comes to the dramatic 30th day it rings hollow.
The same goes for the ending of the film, another forced dramatic parting of the ways that is resolved with relative ease. These bits of forced dramatics undermine the strengths of Gringa though not completely. It’s been a while since I have enjoyed seeing Steve Zahn on screen. His most recent acting work has tended toward laziness. Gringa is the first time in years where Zahn seems engaged in the material and invested in his own performance.
Zahn and Jess Gabor demonstrate a strong father-daughter dynamic and when they aren’t pawns being shoved around by the plot, when they are allowed to till the rich emotional ground of their relationship, Gringa is quite a good movie. It’s unfortunate that the story construction around this complex and compelling pair of actors is so badly compromised by bad choices. I want to recommend Gringa based on the strength of these actors but it’s a very minor recommendation as the whole of Gringa is unsatisfying.
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