GRINGA (2023)

April 21, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. When a 16 year old girl has self-esteem issues, it can be painful to watch. As adults, we know it’s likely to get better, although it’s also possible things get worse before they improve. And ‘things getting worse’ is exactly what happens to Marge in this film co-directed by Marny Eng (long time stunt performer and coordinator) and EJ Foerster, and written by Patrick Hasburgh (writer and creator of TV series “Hardcastle and McCormick” and “21 Jump Street”).

Marge (Jess Gabor, “Shameless”) and her mother (Judy Greer) are both having a hard time. Mom is a California realtor who seems to go through men faster than she sells houses, and Jess is a self-described “fat and slow” bench-warmer on her soccer team, while also battling bulimia and her unpopularity with classmates. It’s at about this time when the “getting worse” part happens for Marge, and soon she’s crossing the border in search of her dad, who left home when she was two years old.

Jackson (Steve Zahn) is a former soccer star-turned alcoholic-surfer, and is no more prepared to be a father now than when Marge was born. It’s an awkward reunion since neither father nor daughter know the other, but they agree to spend a month getting familiar. It’s fun to watch these two bring out the best in each other. Dad promises to stop drinking and treat his girlfriend (Roselyn Sanchez, “Without a Trace”) better, and Marge cleans up her diet and magically improves her soccer skills while subbing for the local team her dad is coaching.

Mr. Zahn has been a familiar face and dependable performer since the early 1990’s, and was recently seen in season one of “The White Lotus.” In this role, he gets to flash some of his trademark goofiness, while also showing some depth as a man-child trying to get his act together. Zahn’s connection with Ms. Gabor is what makes the film click. While not familiar with her previous work, I was impressed with Gabor’s range her and realistic portrayal of a teenager in pain – slumped shoulders and plate of tacos, etc. Ms. Greer has a limited role here, and supporting work comes from Jorge A Jimenez, Valentina Buzzurro, and Nico Bracewell. It’s not really a comedy, although there are some slightly comical moments, and the first two acts are well done, though the poor sound mix and muddled final act don’t end things on a high note. It may seem formulaic at times, but noticing new talent is always a welcome development.

In theaters and VOD beginning April 21, 2023