Ashmore plays Edward, a stifled musician, caught up in a dead-end job and still living with his parents. However when he meets mariachi singer Alberto (Fernando Becerril), he is inspired to follow his dreams and become a musician himself, and so packs up his bags on a whim, and sets off for Mexico. Upon his arrival, he meets Lilia (Martha Higareda), and before he knows it, his aspirations of becoming a fully fledged mariachi singer may soon become a reality.
Gustafson’s sophomore feature film signals a refreshing change of pace in Hollywood – to witness an American character adopt Mexican culture as his own, and long to be accepted in their society, as he becomes enthralled, and immersed into their world. A theme explored countless times before, yet with the shoe on the other foot. As a result it gives Mexican actors the chance to show off their credentials in a different way, not merely consigned to playing antagonistic roles, making up the numbers in drug cartels. As Edward works by way of a vessel for the viewer, channeling him allows for us to find the enchantment in the traditionalism, and celebrate this nation’s identity, for a change.
That being said, Gustafson’s portrayal of Mexico is somewhat stereotypical, and paints the nation out to be like some sort of deranged animal sanctuary, as when Edward arrives he instantly witnesses a litter of pigs in a car boot, and before he knows it, he’s being robbed by two corrupt policemen. Of course it’s imperative to display the culture shock our protagonist faces as it’s a key theme within this title – but the director seems inclined to abide by convention and exaggerate the nation’s trademarks somewhat. However, given the prevalent theme of mariachi singing – the musical genre makes up much of the film’s soundtrack, providing a playful tone, and giving us a real flavour for the culture at hand.
While Ashmore must be commended for his sincere performance of this complex character – who gives little away – Edward is a horribly mawkish, twee creation, which proves to be detrimental to proceedings and the viewer’s emotional investment in the role – as he’s so exceedingly irritating. At one point he’s asked what he missed most about home, and he replies, brazen-faced, with “the smell of November”. Do me a favour.
Nonetheless, there is something intrinsically cinematic about a man wandering around aimlessly, his guitar in tow and a slowly perishing optimism just about keeping him sane. Inside Llewyn Davis another recent example – though probably best we leave any further comparisons between the two productions right there.