Movie Review: The Disney Original Documentary “Mija” celebrates Mexican immigrant life through a love of music

After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival last January, the documentary mija was acquired by the newly launched Disney Original Documentary imprint and is currently showing free in select Los Angeles area theaters. I saw mija in Glendale this afternoon and didn’t know much about what to expect from the film but walked away having had an eye opening experience and learned a lot about what it must be like, first one to be natural born citizen child of an immigrant family.

mija focuses on Doris Muñoz, the twenty-something daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants who settled in the southern Californian city of San Bernardino in the early 1990s. Doris’ family has been through a tough time with her older brother’s recent deportation, but she’s living her dream thanks to her job as manager of rising Mexican-American singer-songwriter sensation Cuco.

After a dramatic, unexpected change in Doris’ career path, she is searching for answers on two fronts – how to get back on track in the music industry and how to help her family members with their ongoing immigration woes. Doris keeps visiting her brother in Tijuana, bringing him supplies and home-cooked food, all the while wishing her parents could join her on her trip. At the same time, she helps her loving mother and father navigate the endless bureaucracy of their green card applications, fearing they may never get the approval they’ve requested from the United States government. And while most of this documentary is about how Doris finds her way through this ordeal, it also zooms in on a talented young musician named Jacks Haupt from Dallas, Texas – also the daughter of first-generation immigrants.

After breaking up with Cuco, Doris approaches Jacks online and offers to be her manager, taking her to Los Angeles for independent record label meetings, glamor photoshoots and a series of parties that she (hopefully) imminent success as a recording artist. But Haupt’s pragmatic parents aren’t as supportive in pursuing her dream as Doris’s are — she receives calls from them accusing her of wasting her time and money traveling to LA. So Jacks, her boyfriend and Doris, her manager, take it upon themselves to achieve their goals.

mija is primarily a story about immigrant life, but it also compellingly documents what it takes to pursue the American dream. There’s one particularly heartbreaking – but at the same time very funny – scene when Doris’ brother calls his own now separated children and asks his daughter what she wants to do when she grows up. She replies, “Something that’s easy, but makes a lot of money.” And we in the audience laugh because that sounds very familiar to us – doesn’t everyone want that? But seriously, what Doris knows (and actually had while managing Cuco) is that the real dream is to get paid well for doing something you love.

The real emotion comes in the last half hour mija, in which the Muñoz family’s search for permanent residence in the United States takes a sudden turn—I won’t say which direction. And now, in the audience, we weep along with Doris’ parents (Are those tears of sadness or tears of joy? Again, I won’t ruin that in this review), whom we respect and admire throughout this 100-minute exploration of the Mexican-American lifestyle. I’ll say that the film leaves us a bit dangling as to whether Jack’s Haupt achieves the success she aspires to – a quick Google search of the film revealed that she hasn’t quite reached Cuco’s fame yet – but the point is that Doris, Jacks and their respective families have found a place where they can freely pursue those dreams. But despite the somewhat abrupt ending (it’s never a bad idea to leave us wanting more, I suppose), mija is a deeply moving and endlessly fascinating look at an underrepresented corner of American life.

mija is playing for free at Laemmle’s Glendale and Santa Monica, California theater locations for the coming week. For more information and to purchase advance tickets, be sure to visit the official Lämmle website.

My rating: 4 out of 5 cheese quesadillas.

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