I walked out of El Cantante having learned a little bit about the life of Hector Lavoe and a little bit about the birth of Salsa music, but not enough about either. To be honest, I was expecting a lot worse and the movie really wasn't completely atrocious. It just wasn't any good. How's that for a rave review?
As one of the few sorry people who actually suffered through Gigli I will say that El Cantante is not nearly as bad as that 2003 monstrosity. That being said, neither Jennifer Lopez or Marc Anthony has the acting ability to carry a movie, especially one that sets out to tell such an intense story. In the end, J Lo's Newyorican Productions' first film is a lengthy music video-like tribute to the biopic, which runs the gamut of cliches but ultimately sheds little new light on the genre. To read the rest of my review just read more
The film is narrated by Jennifer Lopez, who plays Puchi Lavoe, Salsa sensation Hector Lavoe's (Marc Anthony) wife. This should have been an immediate red flag that this movie would be less about Hector's career and more about his relationship with Puchi. The story reads like literally every "Behind The Music" — a quick rise to fame, the drug-induced downfall, a moment of redemption followed by even more downward spiraling. Only El Cantante doesn't have endless interviews with the story's crucial players that help to create a full picture and make the VH1 series so watchable. It only has Puchi.
J Lo's Puchi is supposed to be hard headed and strong, but often came off as shrieky and annoying. At the most emotional moment of the movie, she delivers her ultra dramatic "you can never, ever leave me" speech, but instead of hanging on her every word I just couldn't wait until it was over. Not a very good sign.
As an actor, Marc Anthony was the highlight for me, probably because his character wasn't too far from himself. The movie involved more singing than I expected, which is certainly his strong suit. Marc isn't a drug addict, but he does light up on stage and know what it is like to be a superstar. J Lo, on the other hand, doesn't know what it's really like to play second fiddle to her husband's fame, and it showed.
As I mentioned earlier, one of my biggest qualms with the movie was that it didn't teach me enough about Hector himself and the rise of Salsa music in America. Most of what the movie teaches you about Hector Lavoe you can gather from the preview. In fact, as soon as I got home from the screening, I looked him up on Wikipedia hoping that it would help me put the pieces of his life in logical order.
Perhaps this is what they were going for — to make the movie as chaotic, fragmented and confusing as Hector and Puchi Lavoe's lives were — but even that message didn't come through clear enough. It's unfortunate, because I do think that within El Cantante is a story worth telling, but this movie just didn't do it justice.
Photos courtesy of Picturehouse