One of the hardest things for any stubborn and angst-ridden teenager to do is to have a genuine sentimental moment with an elder. In Somos Mari Pepa, the teen is in a punk band and lives with his traditional and religious grandmother. Seeing as these two personalities would inevitably butt heads, explicit onscreen interaction between them is minimal. But part of teen culture involves finding ways to show affection and admiration without saying anything too incriminating out loud— purely out of pride and insecurity. These subtle moments are highlighted in Somos Mari Pepa very effectively.
Sixteen-year-old Alex (Alejandro Gallardo) and his grandmother (Petra Iniguez Robles) live in the same house but generally keep to themselves. In solitude, Abuela listens to traditional Latin music through an equally dated record player; Alex spends much of his time in a band that plays punk music with excessively crass lyrics, or miming the electric guitar in front of a mirror. When Alex has had enough of his grandmother's music he turns it down, but she turns the volume back up in retaliation. Their interactions are marked by passive-aggression with minimal communication.
Later, Abuela listens to a sermon on the radio in which the song "Hotel California" is referred to as an ode to Satan. Noticing the imagery in her young and impressionable grandson's room, she promptly throws all his posters away. Alex is understandably upset when he finds his belongings in the trash— before he is able to confront her, however, he realizes his grandmother has wandered off alone. Once he finds her, Alex gently guides her back home instead of arguing. In a quietly moving scene, Alex notices later that his posters have been fished out of the trash and re-taped on his wall.
The next time Alex sees his grandmother sitting alone with her record player, he opts to sit beside her in silence instead of turning the volume down. Rather than a point of contention, music has transformed into a foundation for empathy and understanding. Neither Alex nor his grandmother need to alter their personal tastes in order to connect with each other. Rather, each in their own way embraces music as a vehicle to escape the chaos of the outside world.
Somos Mari Pepais not a film riddled with heartfelt monologues or visible breakdowns. Instead, emotional stakes are highest in the quiet moments which registers the film as a more accurate representation of fifteen-year-olds than many coming-of-age films. Alex's first real interaction with his father's new son goes from an aggressive "What are you looking at?" to the two playfully mimicking each other— the film immediately cuts to a scene in which the younger brother watches Mari Pepa's band practice in awe. Few words are exchanged but this makes their kinship feel more organic, as though they had been brothers who grew up in the same household.
Finally, in a scene that takes place at a funeral, the boys sit in silence before offering their grieving friend an appetizer and a supportive fist bump. Since they don't have the wisdom to offer any significant healing words, they just do what they can to make life on earth as fun and pleasant as possible. And that's all anyone, regardless of age, can ask for.