The Movie Binge

El Cantante

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The cheek bones of a warrior and the look of love.

The audience I saw El Cantante with on Saturday afternoon was filled to the gills with Latino mamis, and when Miss Jennifer Lopez appeared on screen about five minutes into the film, an audible gasp of pleasure rippled through the crowd. They knew what we had paid $11.75 to see—we were here to see our superstar Jenny from the block play second banana to her real life husband Marc Anthony as he portrayed the salsa performer Hector Lavoe. An immigrant from Puerto Rico to New York during the early '60s, Lavoe fused a number of different popular Latino musical styles to create an electric new genre called salsa but like many a performer before and since, he developed a insatiable taste for the injectable party and died in the early '80s of AIDS.

But Lavoe shavoe, even though the movie's title "El Cantante" or "the singer" refers to him, anyone who understands the Hollywood star system knows this is a Jennifer Lopez movie. Interestingly enough it actually reads as a Lopez/Anthony movie, more about the aspects of their relationship they want to put up on the silver screen than any kind of biopic narrative. Lopez chose the script with her production company long before she was even dating Anthony, casting him as Lavoe and herself as the controlling shrew wife Puchi. See, she even put herself into the non-singing, second fiddle role. Could've it have been for love?

As a proud, yet scarred member of the Saw Gigli in the Theaters club, I know what Lopez looks like on camera when she's in a dying relationship. In El Cantante her facial expressions and body language toward her costar are the complete the opposite. She literally lights up. It's lovely. Of course it's not surprising that she has affection and admiration in her eyes while she watches Anthony perform, he's not one of the most popular recording artists in the Latin world for nothing, the man knows his way around the microphone. But with the rote "a star rises, a star falls" story line, I could've done with about 45 minutes chopped off the end of this movie. Or better yet, the filmmakers should've eschewed narrative all together and strung together a bunch of Lavoe music with their footage of Lopez modeling increasingly more decadent fashions from the '60s, '70s and '80s. It's a serious shame that Lopez didn't live during the era of Studio 54, she looks spectacular with messy curls, gold jewelry and Amazonian blush. If she'd been a Steve Rubell regular, she would've outshone Bianca Jagger and Cher combined. After all, she's no regular girl from the Bronx. Jenny's a Star.