A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that even though J Lo is popular with younger teens, this isn't a movie for that age group. The characters abuse alcohol, engage in excessive drug use, curse frequently, and generally display self-degrading, suicidal behavior. Many scenes depict explicit drug use and sexual activity, mostly motivated by the mind-altering substances. Though the audience soon understands that there's little hope for Hector Lavoe and his family, the characters themselves seem unable to change their conduct, even at the risk of their own lives and the lives of loved ones. It's a non-stop downward spiral without a happy ending.
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What's the story?
Hector Lavoe (Marc Anthony) was the most exciting voice in the volcanic eruption of the new Latin American music. In the late 1960s -- early 1970s, Lavoe and his contemporaries combined the pulsing rhythms of the streets of Puerto Rico and New York City with more traditional Latin sounds, spurring the spicy "salsa" phenomenon. This biopic chronicles Lavoe's story as he falls in love, has a family, realizes enormous success, and is then seduced by money, adulation, and the drug culture. And so it goes: Hector's wife, Puchi (Jennifer Lopez) pleads with him (while actively doing drugs herself); Hector doesn't listen. One calamity follows another, until the flame dies and hearts are broken.
Is it any good?
EL CANTANTE brings the magic of salsa music to the screen; unfortunately, it also brings the audience another bleak story of a flameout singer bent on self-destruction. Director Leon Ichaso, faced with the difficult task of taking a story that's been told many times, partially succeeds in making the material special. The colorful music and dancing are wonderful; the movie transitions through time and place with grace and coherence. What's missing is motivation and an understanding of what made these charismatic and talented people self-destruct.
Hector was such a sweet young man; Puchi seemed innocent in spite of a young sophistication. Both Anthony and Lopez fully commit to their roles. He's terrific, and this is the most authentic that Lopez has ever been. As the framing structure for the movie, Ichaso uses an interview with Puchi conducted long after her husband's death. But it simply isn't enough to help the audience understand Lavoe's self-imposed downfall.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the many celebrities who have struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. Why did Lavoe, who was talented and had achieved fame and had a loving family and friends behave in such a disastrous way? What traits might help someone famous stay grounded and be able to cope with stardom? Would those traits be helpful for the average person as well? How did the music, and particularly the lyrics, add to your understanding of the characters?
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