‘Mija’ Review: Hitting the Notes

In the documentary “Mija,” the music manager Doris Muñoz wonders aloud in voice-over if her brothers resented her for being the only person in their Mexican immigrant family with U.S. citizenship. She concludes with what could’ve easily been a throwaway line: “How could they not?”

But her delivery is so full of raw emotion that it breaks the film open and sets a poignant tone for this coming-of-age story from the director Isabel Castro. Poetic in its musicality yet rooted in the mundane, “Mija” sheds fresh light on the longings of a new generation of Mexican Americans making music that reflects the nuances of their realities on both sides of the border.

Shot in vérité, and including the use of camcorder footage from Doris’s family, the film follows Doris as she works behind-the-scenes with her Gen Z singer-songwriters (Cuco and later, Jacks Haupt) all while helping her parents navigate the green card process. Castro favors close-up silhouettes of her subjects paired with the sparing use of Doris’s confession-like voice-over that sounds just above a whisper. And when we eventually get to hear Doris sing from her own considerable depths, we know that she too is a star.

The subtitles in “Mija” are loose — some Spanish, and Spanglish, is translated, some isn’t. A subtle choice that might point to Castro, much like Doris and her artists’ songs, making a decision to forgo explanatory commas and simply let the ineffable, untranslatable parts of their story breathe.

All this adds up to an immersive, deeply empathetic look at what it means for first-generation Americans like Doris and Jacks to reclaim the right to pursue unpredictable dreams. With all the familial sacrifices made to forge a life for them in America, one could argue this was the point: how could they not?

Mija
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. In theaters.