As we left the theater after seeing the new film El Cantante, starring Marc Anthony as Puerto Rican salsa great Hector Lavoe and Mrs. Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, as Mrs. Lavoe, Puchi Perez, someone said, “Jennifer really made the movie. Without her, the story would have been flat.” That’s true. The problem is that minus Perez, it might have been a lot more musical.
Lavoe was a key figure in salsa’s 1960s and ‘70s heyday who happened to be a drug addict. In El Cantante, he’s a dope fiend who happens to sing. Occasionally.
To be fair, the film is based on a series of interviews Perez gave in 2002, just months before she died in an accident. The story is told from her point of view, and so it makes sense – for her, anyway – that the film center on her and Lavoe’s relationship rather than the time he spent onstage or in the studio. It was her life with Lavoe that she knew best, and that part would naturally be most interesting to her. But that shouldn’t have stopped the filmmakers from seeking out other source material. Willie Colon, Ruben Blades and countless others who shared Lavoe’s musical journey are alive and kicking and eager to tell what they remember.
Not that El Cantante is a whitewash; in fact, it doesn’t sanitize Perez much at all. She comes across as tough and pushy, even foul-mouthed. She also shares her husband’s liking for drugs, but Lavoe is reduced to a prop for her to dance around or fight with.
Except for the concert scenes, Anthony is rarely the center of attention. Lopez takes Puchi from drop-dead gorgeous to a fading beauty. Aside from the fact that Lopez’s Puerto Rican accent seems to come and go throughout the film, she gives a healthy performance. It’s true, she does make the film. Again, that’s the problem.
Perhaps the most powerful Hispanic couple in the entertainment industry today, Lopez and Anthony make a movie about a famous singer – and don't focus on his singing. Am I the only one who has a problem with that? Maybe they’ll sing a little more at the Toyota Center Halloween night. – Olivia Flores Alvarez
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