Guess what. American musicians aren't the only ones who piss their talents away on drugs. Latin salsa icons are just as self-destructive as gringos. Hector Lavoe brought salsa to America in the '70s and rose to fame in the '80s before dying of AIDS from sharing needles.
Movie Review: El Cantante
El Cantante is a straight biopic with all the standard elements. Told in flashbacks from a 2002 interview with Puchi Lavoe (Jennifer Lopez), it traces Hector (Marc Anthony)'s cultivation by music executives, transition to diva behavior, descent into drug abuse and all the marital problems that go along with it.
The film has a great energy. Not only the salsa music but the period pop music soundtrack keeps montages going, and any shot of Lopez shaking and swaying invigorates the screen. Key salsa songs are presented with English translations, but not your same old subtitles. They're incorporated into the scene.
The dark moments are suitably horrible. Hector's drug lapses endanger his son, he's mildly abusive to Puchi and he spends some time in the hospital. There are also some whimsical moments scattered throughout, presumably to show that he had something worth living for. Although he didn't make it, so it's kind of irrelevant.
The acting is solid. Lopez gives her strongest performance. Puchi comes across as strong while breaking down. You see her gradually worn down, not just a sudden shift and Lopez plays all the levels well. Since the first interview scenes show her as a swearing vulgarian and the first flashback is a sweet little babe, the film immediately establishes her bookends and she works through them.
Anthony also transitions well from the wide-eyed innocent smitten with love to the diva to the druggie whoremonger.
For anyone not specifically interested in this music or even this singer particularly, it's hard to imagine an interest in El Cantante. For me, it was easy to sit through. Considering I hate salsa music, I wasn't bored or uncomfortable. When people drag me to a salsa club I feel like the band is beating me in the head rhythmically. In the movie, I just felt energy.
But it's still the same old thing. Everyone did a great job, but the archetype itself needs to be elevated. If these movies just keep playing the same old notes (pun intended), it's just Oscar bait. But watch, it'll probably work again.