Everyone told me I would be disappointed, but I had to see El Cantante myself. Not so much to prove them wrong, but because I would always wonder about it if I didn’t. For the uninitiated, El Cantante is about the life and death of Hector Lavoe, a hugely influential salsa vocalist from the heyday of Fania (like the Motown of salsa in the ’70s and ’80s). Lavoe contracted HIV as a result of his drug use, and died of AIDS in 1993. The movie follows his rise to fame and events leading up to his death through the eyes of his wife, Puchi, who many saw as a bad influence in his life.

On the whole, I was disappointed by the movie, but I am glad I saw it. From the point of view of a dancer, it was a huge letdown. There was almost no depiction whatsoever of the dance culture that helped support musicians like Hector Lavoe. There were only a few short clips in the movie that depicted any dancing to speak of.

This movie fell into the formulaic trap of every other movie about a famous musical star who gets addicted to heroin and proceeds to self-destruct. Director Leon Ichaso tried to avoid the formula by mixing up the timeline a bit, but I just found it distracting. They were constantly cutting between JLo as Lavoe’s wife Puchi reminiscing, and the actual story. From the actual story they were also cutting all over the place– and to where, it wasn’t even clear at times.

The best part of the movie was Marc Anthony’s portrayal of Hector Lavoe the singer. Anthony’s interpretation of Lavoe is spot-on– his voice, mannerisms, eyes, way of speaking, and physical movement make for a very convincing transformation. As interpreted by Anthony, the soundtrack is excellent in its own right.

Here is one of my favorite Lavoe songs– Aguanile— as interpreted in the film. It’s also the best (and longest) dance moment of the movie with some gorgeous rumba dancing.

And the original by Hector Lavoe:

Here is some footage of Hector Lavoe (as himself) singing El Cantante, so you can compare those mannerisms I was talking about:

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