El Cantante is a 2007 biographical film which stars singers Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. The film is based on the life of the late salsa singer HÃ©ctor Lavoe, who is portrayed by Anthony. The film is told from the viewpoint of Puchi, Hector's wife, portrayed by Lopez. Initially debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2006, El cantante was released on August 3, 2007.
Distributed by Picturehouse, the film runs for 106 minutes and is rated R for language, sexuality and drug use.
Puchi (Jennifer Lopez) talks about her late husband, salsa legend HÃ©ctor Lavoe (Marc Anthony), during a 2002 interview, as she reminisces about memories from the 1960s and '70s, following his arrival in New York City. She discusses their life together and his downfall, which was caused by drugs, alcohol and depression. Scenes of their meeting and courtship are inter-cut with HÃ©ctor performing, while Puchi stands on the side of the stage, dancing to the music.
HÃ©ctor's collaborations with salsa musician Willie ColÃ³n (John Ortiz) and the Fania All Stars are shown, as well as his ventures as a solo artist. Notable events including the birth of their son, HÃ©ctor Jr, his infidelities, and their break-up. Puchi finally becomes tired of his constant partying, cheating, and use of drugs. Although she had pushed him to get professional help, and he did so on occasion, she was unable to persuade him to stop his addictions.
- Marc Anthony as HÃ©ctor Lavoe
- Jennifer Lopez as Nilda Georgina "Puchi" Roman
- Federico Castelluccio as Jerry Masucci
- Vincent Laresca as Ralph Mercado
- VÃctor Manuelle as RubÃ©n Blades
- John Ortiz as Willie ColÃ³n
El cantante, which has an MPAA rating of R, was first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival which took place in September 2006. It was then released to over 542 cinemas on August 3, 2007. The film opened at No. 12 at the U.S. Box Office, grossing $3,202,035 during its opening weekend. It averaged around $6,000 per theater. The following week, it grossed $1,401,148 and fell to No. 16. It left the chart at No. 115 on the week of September 28, 2007, after grossing $1,465. El cantante grossed $7,556,712 domestically and $354,820 overseas, totaling $7.9 million.
Charlotte O'Sullivan of the Evening Standard said the "film did not go down well" at the Box Office, crediting its lack of commercial success to Lopez and Anthony "know nothing about salsa" and its "negative view of the Latino community by focusing on Lavoeâs drug use and death from Aids", which had sparked controversy. The film's DVD was released on October 30, 2007. It became a hit, ranking at No. 8 on the DVD/Home Rentals chart at Box Office Mojo, and had grossed $16.61 million in DVD sales as of December 23, 2007.
Following its Toronto International Film Festival premiere, El Cantante earned mostly negative reviews from critics and currently holds a 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 106 reviews.
Robert Koehler of Variety felt that the biopic, which contained "many standard-issue biopic montage sequences", was only "geared for the bigscreen, but the fairly bland visual design will make pic more than suitable to be seen on the tube". Koehler was critical of both performances, feeling that while Lopez brought "plenty of ferocity" to her character, there wasn't "shape" or "power" to her "wrath", and labeled Anthony "the dullest of movie drug addicts".
A.O. Scott of The New York Times felt that Anthony as Lavoe was hidden behind "his high, delicate cheekbones and tinted glasses" but "Whenever HÃ©ctor takes the stage, however, Mr. Anthony unleashes his charisma, and shows that, whatever his limitations as an actor, he is a brilliant performer". Scott praised Lopez's performance, noting that it had "a lot of fight" with "a hard, skeptical edge" that made Puchi "a more interesting and plausible character than her husband". Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine gave the film and Anthony's performance a positive review, but was critical of Lopez, calling her performance "predictably self-conscious" but said her sequences "complements Puchi's own". Renee Schonfield of Common Sense Media gave El cantante a negative review, "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".
Kevin Maher of The Times was negative, stating that the "soft-pedalled account of Lavoe's rise to fame and his drug-related downfall that has more in common with the biopic parody Walk Hard than anything as muddy as real life". Claudia Puig of USA Today said Anthony "gives a fine and impassioned performance" in a story that "relies on formula and clichÃ©s of the genre" which meant "we don't learn enough about what caused the Puerto Rican-born Lavoe's downward spiral into drug use, promiscuity and suicide attempts after he gained fame in New York City". Additionally, Puig criticized Lopez's airtime by stating "the film has far too much of her and not enough of Anthony".
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, in a review based primarily on Lopez, panned her performance and said "There is something entirely dead about Lopez's performance. No matter how superficially lively she makes it, she is always simply mouthing the lines". On the other hand, Charlotte O'Sullivan of the Evening Standard praised Lopez and her character, "Lopez deserves praise for pushing this project. The recently deceased Puchi (who helped generate the script and pushed for Lopez to play her) is not the kind of character you see on screen every day. She has not been whitewashed and neither, thank goodness, has her husband".
The film was criticized, and accused of "usurping barrio culture and exploiting Lavoe's memory", with salsa singer Ismael Miranda condemning it for "focusing too much on the tragic artist's drug abuse, which eventually led to his death from AIDS complications". Other celebrities who criticized the film were singer Domingo QuiÃ±Ã³nez, and vocalist Cheo Feliciano. Willie ColÃ³n, Lavoe's long time friend and musical partner, was critical of the film. Although he had been hired as a consultant for El cantante, he was not pleased with the end result, stating:
"The creators of El Cantante missed an opportunity to do something of relevance for our community. The real story was about Hector fighting the obstacles of a nonsupportive industry that took advantage of entertainers with his charisma and talent. Instead they did another movie about two Puerto Rican junkies".
Additionally, ColÃ³n blamed Lopez and Anthony:
"It's difficult to comprehend how two individuals who are in the music business like Marc and Jennifer are not aware of the damage and the consequences of promoting only the negative side of our Latin music culture".
And while the film was predominantly a love story, ColÃ³n also noted that in real life, he believed Puchi caused Lavoe's drug problems, but was canonized "so that Jennifer can play her". David L. Coddon of U-T San Diego said following the film's release, "Latino pop culture's highest-profile couple is taking heat from salsa purists who complain that the film, about salsa legend Hector Lavoe, is a distortion, even an exploitation", while also stating Lopez is "one of the most famous women in the world, and there's nothing her critics can do to change that".
NPR's Felix Contreras weighed in on the criticism, pointing out that " any time you have a portrayal of an artist where they reflect a history of drug abuse or alcohol abuse" there would always be criticism, and "in this case, some folks are arguing that the film was focusing on that drug abuse, and not necessarily on what he generated or what he contributed to the music". When commenting on the film, Lopez felt her performance should have earned an Oscar nomination and blamed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for overlooking both the film and her performance.
- El cantante at the Internet Movie Database
- El Cantante at Rotten Tomatoes