out of Five
Running time: 116
Enjoyable musical biopic, enlivened by strong performances and some terrific musical sequences.
What's it all about?
Directed by Leon Ichaso, El Cantante details the rise and fall of salsa singer Hector Lavoe (Marc Anthony), as told from the perspective of his wife Puchi (Jennifer Lopez), who gave a filmed interview in 2002. Using Puchi's interview as a framing device, the film flashes back to Hector's early life when he leaves Puerto Rico and soon finds success as a singer in New York, creating salsa with his friend Willie Colon (John Ortiz) and marrying Puchi at a young age.
However, as Hector's star rises, the familiar musical biopic staples of drink, drugs and other women take their toll. Throughout it all, Puchi loyally stays by his side, until Hector finally dies of an AIDS-related illness in 1993.
Marc Anthony (Jennifer Lopez's real-life husband and a salsa artist in his own right) is sensational as Hector, delivering a complex performance that captures both his talent and his oddly child-like vulnerability. Similarly, Lopez (who co-produced the film with
Anthony) is superb as Puchi, even if she doesn't seem to age much between 1960 and 2002 (though rather that than the usual dodgy old-age prosthetics).
After the likes of Ray and Walk the Line (to say nothing of the skewering delivered by Walk Hard), the cliches of the musical biopic are in danger of becoming laughable, so it's to Ichaso's credit that he pulls off the overly familiar scenes (such as Hector's first taste of drugs) in a way that actually works. That said, he forgoes some of them altogether – for example, there's no sequence depicting Hector's first New York gig or the first time he takes to the stage.
Unfortunately, the script and the supporting cast suffer a little from being limited to Puchi's point of view - we learn nothing about the other women in Hector's life, for example.
This is an entertaining biopic that's worth seeing for the terrific musical sequences and for the superb performances by Anthony and Lopez. Recommended.