Gina Rodriguez stands out in Miss Bala, but she’s the sole bright spot among reams of ill-advised nonsense, genre faff, and ludicrous happenstance.
I didn’t hate Miss Bala, this year’s American remake of Gerardo Naranjo’s same-named 2011 Mexican film, but I can see why people would. It’s an empty and cynical – not to mention ludicrous – bit of genre fluff that leans into the current mistrust of undocumented immigrants for what it assumes is profundity but is really just on-the-nose and tiresome waffle.
There’s a bit more to it than that, though only barely. It also thinks it has things to say about Mexican-American cultural identity – this is the primary difference between the remake and its source, which is a better, more coherent film – but, of course, has very little to say, period, much less anything worth listening to.
It sounds like I hate Miss Bala after all, but I don’t, and here’s why: Gina Rodriguez.
Rodriguez stars as Gloria, a charming Mexico-born but California-raised makeup artist now based in Chicago, but in Tijuana to help her best friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) prepare for a beauty pageant. A knees-up goes horribly askew and Suzu goes missing, while Gloria is ensnared by a ruthless cartel and earns the affections of its suave baby-faced kingpin Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova).
This is all terribly misguided, of course, and it isn’t helped by ludicrous attempts at socio-political relevancy, such as when the cartel use Gloria’s American citizenship to turn her into a drug mule (a plan that goes off surprisingly well, all things considered), or when American Drug Enforcement Administration agents say pretty explicitly that she’s Mexican and therefore probably guilty. Subtle!
But it isn’t just the silly subtext of Miss Bala that makes it such a failure; it also can’t get a handle on basic storytelling concepts. The villains are pitiably stupid and not at all intimidating; the plot is rife with happenstance and predictable twists, and for all Rodriguez’s efforts, Gloria’s arc from meek victim to empowered feminist superwoman feels inauthentic and, if you really think about it, kind of contrary to the film’s underlying condemnation of cartel violence and harmful Latino stereotypes. A failure, then, but one that at the very least hands the reins to a new and exciting young star who will hopefully land roles in better films as a result. And it’s still better than Peppermint.