Review by Sean Boelman
Sometimes the star of a film can elevate something cute but insubstantial into something legitimately memorable, and that is the case with Louis Gossett Jr. in Sergio Navarretta’s drama The Cuban. Sweet and sentimental, this is a crowd-pleaser if there ever was one, overcoming its conventional script with good intentions.
The movie follows a kind-hearted but naive worker in a nursing home who befriends an elderly Cuban musician, helping with his condition and re-igniting her own love for music. Admittedly, the film is essentially one big manifestation of the dated “magical Negro” trope, but despite this, it comes from a place of earnestness rather than malice.
The message of the movie is an expected one, that treating others with kindness and humanity is the best way to make oneself and others feel better. The sense of optimism that radiates throughout this film is infectious and unlikely to leave any but the coldest viewers without a smile on their face.
Perhaps the movie’s greatest weakness is its character development. While the friendship between the two leads is extremely compelling, the audience is only given threads as to each of their stories on an individual level. It would have been nice to get more insight into the protagonist’s life with her Middle-Eastern family, for example.
For the eponymous musician, much of his characterization comes in the form of flashbacks (or more accurately, visions) that he experiences of his past while interacting with the protagonist. These brief glimpses are among some of the best moments in the film, leaving one wishing that they had been more prominent.
Gossett Jr.’s performance in the eponymous role is wonderful, even if he isn’t given much to do other than act senile. He brings a lot of empathy and subtlety to a character that easily could have been exaggerated and over-the-top. His chemistry with lead Ana Golja is excellent too and drives the movie quite well.
Aesthetically, the movie does some interesting things with the fantasy elements of the story, but the main thing about the film that is impressive is its soundtrack. Featuring some great performances of iconic Cuban hits, this movie will have audiences tapping their toes along with the recognizable tunes.
The Cuban offers plenty of adorable (if not completely surprising) moments. Most viewers will probably be drawn to this for its star, and Louis Gossett Jr. delivers, giving a memorable performance in a film that is otherwise just solid.
The Cuban opens in theaters and virtual cinemas on July 31.