★★★★ | Mariachi Gringo

When Edward was a young boy growing up in rural Kansas he dreamed of running away to join a band.

However, he’s now about to have his 30th birthday and he’s still living at home with his parents, and still taking the mind-numbing drugs his paediatrician had prescribed, and he’s about to lose his dead end job.

The one small joy in his life is occasionally going out to a small Mexican Restaurant in town which is owned by Alberto a mariachi player and his wife. Alberto takes a shine to Edward when he discovers a mutual love for music and he starts to mentor him with his guitar playing and teaching him how play mariachi style.

Alberto loves telling stories of his hometown Guadalupe and how he longs to go back there and play once more in the Plaza de los Mariachis. When one day Alberta has a near fatal stroke it’s a wake-up call for Edward who finally realises that life is too short and he needs to follow his dream now before it’s too late.

So he ups sticks and runs off to Mexico and to Alberto’s hometown but when he hears all the bands playing there he soon realises that he is a very inadequate musician. Luckily by chance, he meets Leila whose family runs a restaurant in the Square and she takes him under her wing, points him in the way of accommodation, gives him a part-time job working in the kitchen, and promises to find him the right people to help to turn him into a true mariachi.

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Leila is a live wire and a total opposite to quiet slow Edward and he soon mistakes all her kindnesses as an invitation to romance. As do we all thinking that we are about to see a boy meets girl and they all live happily every after story. Turns out this girl would prefer to meet another girl, but luckily by then Edward has his music to throw his pent up lust into, and for a white boy he turns out to be a pretty good musician after all.

This rather charming story is the 2nd feature of director Tom Gustafson (his first was ’Were The World Mine) Has a great cast: Shawn, one half of Ashmore Canadian acting twins, played a very cute Edward, and beautiful Mexican actress Martha Higareda was wonderful as Leila; and Oscar nominee (for Babel) the indomitable Adriana Barraza played her mother. BUT undoubtedly the best thing about this whole movie was the incredible music. Totally uplifting and so hypnotic especially when it was sung so stunningly by Grammy award winner Lila Downs who I now know is a something of a Mariachi legend.

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If I have one niggle it would be that the film started out really slow and awkward with the acting really quite stiff even by stalwarts such as Kate Burton and Tom Wopat, but once we left Kansas it picked up and became an engaging piece. So maybe Dorothy was right after all!

In Cinemas in the UK from today

About the author: Roger Walker-Dack
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