Miss Bala Parent Guide
A movie that overturns genre expectations - and not always in a good way.
Parent Movie Review
It’s a bit of a surprise to attend a film titled ”Miss Bala” and discover that there is no character with that name. But in Spanish, “bala” means “bullet” and the reason for the movie’s name becomes clear far too soon. Miss Bala stars Gina Rodriguez as Gloria, a makeup artist from L.A. who goes down to Tijuana to help her friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) in the Miss Baja California beauty contest. Shortly after arriving, Gloria witnesses a nightclub shooting and in all the chaos, Suzu disappears. When Gloria turns to the police to find her friend, she becomes embroiled in a world of cartels, drugs, and violence. Led by Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova), the La Estrella gang forces Gloria to commit several crimes, promising each time that her friend will be returned as a reward. At the same time, Gloria is picked up by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and told to inform on Lino or face life in prison. With all these competing forces at work, will Gloria be able to find her friend? And what will the consequences be for her unwillingness to abandon Suzu?
While this certainly sounds like a mile-a-minute action thriller, Miss Bala is actually fairly insipid. Despite an intense performance from Gina Rodriguez, the film feels almost soulless. The script is very predictable, and I was able to forecast most plot twists a half an hour in advance. While predictability doesn’t preclude enjoyment, this production doesn’t generate enough excitement to compensate for a bland script. Oddly enough, Miss Bala has a successful pedigree: it is an English-language remake of a 2011 Mexican film of the same title. The original Miss Bala clearly hit its mark: that version was shortlisted as the Mexican entry for the “Best Foreign Film” Academy Award and was positively received at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Sadly, something has been lost in translation.
Given this film’s genre, it comes as a pleasant surprise that content issues are relatively mild. While there is a fair bit of gun violence, people are not shown with graphic injuries, and most of the gunfights occur in dark areas at night, making it even more difficult to really see what’s going on. There is little explicit sexual content, although the protagonist seems to spend a lot of time getting groped by the local creeps. Obviously with this plot, there will be some illegal substances shown and discussed, but they are never used on screen and no one is shown under the influence of those substances.
It’s not just content where Miss Bala overturns genre expectations. Most action thrillers generate edge-of-your-seat tension. But the only real emotion that I felt during the movie was apathy. Miss Bala lacks the heart to stand out from its predictable screenplay. Other than Gina Rodriguez’s compelling performance, the best that can be said for the film is that with a short runtime of 1 hour and 44 minutes, it doesn’t stick around long enough to outstay its welcome.Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Starring Gina Rodriguez, Anthony Mackie, and Thomas Dekker. Running time: 104 minutes. Theatrical release February 1, 2019. Updated February 1, 2019
Rating & Content Info
Why is Miss Bala rated PG-13? Miss Bala is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for sequences of gun violence, sexual and drug content, thematic material, and language
Violence: There are several gunfights in the film, in which multiple people are shown being shot. With few exceptions, these shots do not show any blood or injuries. A character is shown bleeding slightly from the nose after tripping in a dark room. A character is threatened with torture, both to herself and those she cares about (including a young boy). A bomb detonates outside a building, killing three people who are not shown. A man is shown with a gunshot wound in his leg. An individual is shot in the back of the head for betraying the gang. A man is shot multiple times in the chest and is seen bleeding.
Sexual Content: A character is shown form the shoulders up in the shower for a few moments and is also shown (briefly) in her underwear. The protagonist is frequently groped or touched by men who she is clearly uncomfortable with. There are allusions to, and brief non-explicit conversations about, women being trafficked by cartels.
Profanity: A dozen uses of profanity, primarily in the “Moderate” category, some of which are in Spanish and subtitled. There is one partial use of an extreme profanity, which is cut short.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Several characters are shown drinking socially, but never to the point of intoxication. A tray with lines of cocaine is briefly shown in a nightclub. Large packets of cocaine are shown being smuggled across the border.
Page last updated February 1, 2019
Miss Bala Parents' Guide
The original 2011 Mexican film was based on a real life incident in Mexico. Model and beauty queen Laura Elena Zuniga Huizar was arrested with members of a drug cartel. If you had been adapting this story for the screen would your version look like the 2019 production? What would you do differently?
Gloria finds herself between a rock and a hard place - what would you do in her position? Do you think that law enforcement fully appreciates the difficult circumstances some individuals are placed in?
Gloria is very loyal to her friends, even though it gets her in a great deal of trouble. Do you think that she should have looked out for herself? Or is loyalty an important virtue?
Read books about Miss Bala
The drug world is a horrifying place and books on the topic tend to be dark. Ellen Hopkins’ novel in poetry, Crank, describes the world of a meth addict in unforgettable poems.
Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, award winning non-fiction book by journalist Sam Quinones tells the story of how out of control prescribing of narcotic painkillers and an influx of Mexican heroin combined to create the current drug epidemic ravaging the American Mid-West.
Also in the non-fiction genre, Tom Wainwright’s Narco-Economics: How to Run a Drug Cartel explains how drug cartels have used mainstream business strategies to create lucrative financial empires.
News About "Miss Bala"
Miss Bala is based on a 2011 Mexican film of the same name. In the original film, a young woman and her family are kidnapped by a drug cartel: the woman is forced to work as a courier for the cartel with her family used as hostages for her cooperation. This film was based on a true story involving the Miss Sinaloa for 2008 who was arrested in a vehicle with gang members and weapons. The Mexican film was released at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where it was well received.
Related home video titles:
For a more comic take on the crime-meets-beauty pageant plot, Miss Congeniality features Sandra Bullock as an undercover FBI agent infiltrating a competition to prevent a terrorist attack.
Adult viewers looking for a more complex and nuanced approach to the problems with drug cartels might enjoy 2015’s Sicario, directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio del Toro.
The Mule tells the story of a senior citizen who voluntarily becomes involved with a drug cartel, in this case as a “mule” delivering drugs. This Restricted film is suitable for adults who like the genre and are prepared for some violent content.
In The Snitch, a father goes undercover in a drug cartel to find the criminals whose nefarious activities landed his son in jail.