September 18, 2012

Chico & Rita (2010)

AN ELDERLY MAN shines shoes in modern-day Havana. Later, at his cramped, run-down apartment, he turns on the radio and listens to an oldies station play a Latin jazz hit from the late 1940s. He sets his fingers on the window sill, and softly plays along with the opening notes of the piano as a sultry female voice begins to sing…

The old man is Chico (Eman Xor Oña), the song is one of his recordings with Rita (Limara Meneses), and Chico & Rita is their story. Told over a span of 60 years, it follows Chico and Rita as they meet at a Havana nightclub, and after a torrid one night stand and a few misunderstandings (oops, he has a girlfriend), they chase their dreams and each other from Havana to New York, Paris, Hollywood, and Las Vegas – all while encountering missed or blown opportunities in their careers and their relationship.

The animation in Chico & Rita is a fresh detour from most major releases these days. It’s a unique, captivating style, like rotoscoping by way of CGI – with dimension, depth, and an amazing attention to detail, especially in the cityscapes of Havana, New York City, and Paris.

The Latin jazz soundtrack of Chico & Rita permeates nearly every frame, either in the background or front and center. It features original music by legendary Cuban pianist/composer Bebo Valdés (on whom Chico is loosely based) as well as legends such as Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Tito Puente, and Chano Pozo (who all have animated cameos in the film).

Ironically, for all the excitement, passion, and life that the soundtrack brings to Chico & Rita, the story itself is a predominately quiet one, with most action and conversations very reserved and mellow. And despite all the globetrotting and love-hate yearnings Chico and Rita share and experience, there’s not enough of an investment in the time they spend together to make us feel for the times they’re apart.

Chico & Rita was nominated for a 2012 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (along with Kung Fu Panda 2 and the deserving winner, Rango), and directors Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba should be credited for bringing something unique to the animation genre. But even the engaging animation and lively Latin soundtrack can’t save or elevate the muted love story that could have been.

Spanish, with subtitles.

Is it suitable for your kids?
Chico & Rita is an animated feature released by the largely kid-friendly GKIDS, but it is definitely not for children. Rita is fully nude for an extended scene, she and Chico are both nude while making love, and several women’s bare behinds are shown. In terms of violence: Chico’s girlfriend and Rita fight across Chico’s apartment floor, Chico is shot in a dream sequence, and another character is shot several times and killed. There is also drinking, smoking, profanities, and one racial slur.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she’s a fan of the Latin jazz movement, she may enjoy the sounds and scenery of Chico & Rita. But if she’s a fan of love stories, she may feel underwhelmed by Chico and Rita’s romance.

Her name was Rita / She was a showgirl...
His name was Chico / He wore a diamond...
I heard they played at the hottest spot north of Havana.
Chico & Rita
* Directors: Javier Mariscal, Fernando Trueba
* Screenwriters: Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, Fernando Trueba
* Stars: Limara Meneses, Eman Xor Oña, Mario Guerra
* MPAA Rating: N/A

Rent Chico & Rita from Netflix >>

1 comment:

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