A fisheye view of a skateboarding fail opens Samuel Kishi’s coming-of-age drama We Are Mari Pepa, but these Mexican adolescents don’t seek viral fame; they pick up their fallen friend and kick out the mf-ing jam(s).
Although the opening minutes are filled with heavy riffs and obscene lyrics, it becomes evident that mild-mannered guitarist Alex (Alejandro Gallardo) and his bandmates portray a punk rock nastiness by teenager default. The lead singer bounces around with excitement at the sound of his own voice, and why shouldn’t he — it’s the only song his band knows how to play! We Are Mari Pepa focuses less on the evolution of the quartet’s music and more on the progress of their individual identities. Director Kishi produces a snapshot of Mexican life by filling the characters’ world with visual reminders of American stardom (The Ramones, The Beatles, a Brett Favre jersey) while hitting the breaks to reflect a more innocent reality of the foul-mouth friends.
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Alex lives with his grandmother; a woman perceptive to the sounds of The Ramones without understanding the overall message. In this regard, Alejandro is not unlike his elder as he also experiences a visceral reaction to the music without entirely identifying to a bigger picture. But that changes once the 16-year-old picks up a pen and writes the second song for his crew. Although Alex doesn’t have much to talk about, he begins to rack up life experiences with a first awkward kiss, a confident public performance and a near beat down after he gets robbed walking home. Now the wheels are turning in his punk rock mind as his comrades address more poetic concerns like college preparation and pleasing a One Direction-loving girlfriend. Together, Mari Pepa plays, and Kishi’s raw direction highlights genuine moments of youthful exuberance. In one particularly affecting scene, the band attempts to learn Alex’s new jam, but the love-inflicted bassist shows more interest in texting his gal. Once the music comes together, however, and the feeling seems right, Mari Pepa experiences a collective moment of musical fury — and it shows (“I’m never going to mass again with you if you don’t give me some of that”). Once uncertain and inexperienced kids, the group discovers that road bumps are unavoidable on the road to success.
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We Are Mari Pepa doesn’t adhere to typical narrative structures, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise given the opening minutes. The more outlandish the dialogue becomes, the more Kishi highlights his tight screenwriting with co-scribe Sofía Gómez-Córdova. Insults are unleashed, middle fingers are waved in the air and the members of Mari Pepa boast about their sexual desires; they can feel something coming in the air, but the answers are still blown’ in the wind.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.