Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 5th, 2022
Mija (Isabel Castro, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.
Just at the midpoint of her twenties, Doris Muñoz is living the dream, managing the career of a high-school classmate, now a rising superstar, named Cuco (aka Omar Banos). They came up together and now travel the world, bringing solid incomes to both. Unfortunately, nothing good ever lasts forever. Such is the setup of Mija, Isabel Castro’s debut feature documentary, which tracks Muñoz to the ensuing stage of her life as she navigates job challenges and more.
Soon, Castro jumps to her second protagonist, 21-year-old Jacks Haupt, an up-and-comer in need of someone to advance her to the next level. Enter Doris, newly footloose and fancy free and in need of work. As the children of Mexican immigrants, both, the two women bond, forging a friendship that goes beyond their professional relationship. Along the way, we learn much about them and their families and hear great songs. What’s not to like?
Castro and her team follow Doris back and forth from her home in San Bernardino, California, to Dallas, Texas, where Jacks (aka Jacqueline) resides. They also travel to Tijuana, Mexico, where Doris’ brother José has lived ever since his deportation from the U.S. five years prior (leaving his kids behind). Though Doris (herself born in California) was able to pay for her parents, previously undocumented, to apply for Green Cards, her financial success came too late for José. Mom and Dad have not seen him since he left and won’t be able to again until their documentation comes through. There’s always Skype and FaceTime, but that’s hardly the same thing.
What starts as one kind of film—a personal look at a vibrant young woman living the American dream—evolves into a much larger meditation on immigration, family and identity. The camera is an intimate participant in this drama, drawing us closer to the people whose story we watch, very much its own character. Castro’s access is impressive, Doris and Jacks seemingly allowing her to film even awkward moments. Though the lens is more on the former than the latter, we nevertheless see the hurdles that Jacks must overcome, as well.
“Mija” means “darling” in Spanish and is the name of Doris’ management company, which by the end of the film is doing well. Thanks to Castro, we have seen her and Jacks grow together, and embraced their journey with open arms. It’s a documentary with enormous charm, despite an occasional formlessness that makes the narrative drift, filled with the melody of endurance. Enjoy the music.