Over the last few years the film market has been over saturated with biopics, many of which have been about musicians. Ray, Walk the Line, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and Beyond the Sea are just a few of this rather large batch. Not that it matters much, but El Cantante adds little to the already mediocre genre. Biopics tend to fail when they try and cover an entire life of a person in a mere two hours. El Cantante proves this with its unemotional and uneven structure. Hector Lavoe (Marc Anthony) and Puchi (Jennifer Lopez) never feel like anything more than caricatures, a fault that is not of the two actors’ performances. Instead, that fault lies with the story never allowing the characters to receive proper development. This is a simple case of style over substance.
As a young boy, Hector Lavoe was a soft spoken, hard worker who had a fondness for salsa. Salsa was introduced to him by his beloved padre and Hector discovers that he has a great voice and winds up auditioning for a band. Stunned by his surprising talent, they immediately want him to join. Along the way to fame, Hector meets Puchi, who he ends up marrying and having a son with. As his celebrity status rises, Hector goes the predictable route and finds drugs to be his favorite thing outside of music. He also has a penchant for sleeping with dozens of different girls. Meanwhile, Puchi is struggling to keep an active relationship between herself, her husband and their son, who merely wishes to spend time with his father.
One of the bigger problems with this story is that it is told mostly through Puchi’s eyes. Between the segments showing Hector and Puchi interacting through these tumultuous events in their lives, spliced in are clips from a recreated documentary featuring Puchi’s recollection of these events. Every twenty minutes or so, the story screeches to a halt so that Puchi can tell the audience that what is happening during the on screen re-enactment is indeed the true story. This causes the film to spoon-feed the audience in a deliberate fashion that doesn’t add anything of value to the story and actually detracts from the film’s horribly mundane structure. Then again, the otherwise straightforward narrative, which follows Hector’s rise to fame, his discovery of drugs, and his eventual tragedies needed something to spice it up, but I’m positive this experiment wasn’t it.
The acting and music are the high points of El Cantante. Lopez and Anthony both do commendable jobs in their roles; it’s just too bad that the script never gives them enough material to really chew on. I would have loved to know what made Puchi so fascinated with Hector or why Hector rose to fame so quickly. These parts are skimmed in favor of more painstakingly generic footage of drug addiction. The music, another high point, is fantastic in El Cantante. It keeps the film in motion and makes for some lively tunes. If the story had delved more into the man and his music, this movie would have worked wonders.
With intentions of hiding its generic structure behind a jerky, expository style, the story in El Cantante is lost. We never do discover Hector Lavoe the man. Instead the singer gets thrown into the shuffle of studios trying to capitalize on a bland genre’s success.