Review by Sean Boelman
Gringa was the winner of the Audience Award at this year’s Gasparilla International Film Festival, and it’s totally understandable why: it’s a sometimes cheesy, always feel-good dramedy boasting a great performance by Steve Zahn. Although the movie doesn’t do much to stand out, it does what it sets out to do pretty well.
Gringa follows a teenager who, after the sudden and untimely death of her mother, runs away to Mexico in an attempt to reconnect with her father that she never knew. Although the film hardly reinvents the wheel, it’s wholesome and generally agreeable in a way that makes it a pretty sure bet to be a crowd-pleaser.
One of the biggest issues with the movie is that it can’t decide on its identity. It's a soccer movie, a fish-out-of-water comedy, a surfing movie, a grief drama, an alcoholic dad movie, and an eating disorder drama — all in one. It throws a bunch of things to the wall, and while many of them are effective, there are so many pivots that it becomes frustrating.
Still, the film manages to consistently find humor and charm in all of these varied situations. Even when the story is hitting the familiar beats — such as the obligatory romance with the suave local boy whose intentions might not be as pure as they seem — it’s hard to deny the movie’s cuteness factor.
Indeed, even though the characters’ arcs are all very conventional, audiences will certainly be rooting for them the entire way. The central relationship dynamic, between father and daughter, is really wonderful and very sweet. Some of the supporting characters, like the protagonist’s teammates, feel underdeveloped and much less authentic.
The best thing about the film is Steve Zahn’s performance. Zahn is one of the most underrated actors working today, and he is able to nail both the comedic and dramatic elements of the role. The rest of the cast struggles to find the right tone, doubling down on the sentimentality and cheesiness.
Visually, the movie makes the most of its Mexico shooting location to provide some absolutely gorgeous scenery for the film to be shot in. That being said, there are some missed opportunities in terms of the execution. For example, the soccer scenes are very plainly shot and could have been done in a more energetic, entertaining way.
Had Gringa been able to focus on one part of its story more specifically, it likely would have been a lot more effective. Still, thanks to a very strong performance by Steve Zahn and a charming aura, it’s the type of movie that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
Gringa screened at the 2023 Gasparilla International Film Festival, which runs March 23-26 in Tampa, FL.