Do even probably the most apolitical artists have a duty to seek out and take a stand when society is crumbling, or ought to the types of pop which have at all times ridden alongside on floor pleasures nonetheless be allowed to be a demilitarized zone? These are questions that clearly face all marquee American entertainers in the autumn of 2020, if solely lengthy sufficient to dismiss them. They confronted Latin celebrity J Balvin in an even bigger manner final November when a personally triumphant hometown stadium present occurred to coincide along with his native Colombia reaching a flashpoint of historic turmoil. It additionally coincided with Balvin being adopted by a documentary crew in the week earlier than the gig, ensuing in “The Boy From Medellin,” an Amazon unique that exhibits the reggaeton singer being pressured to develop a political conscience, whether or not he desires one or not.
Should you had been going to place “The Boy From Medellin” on a pop-doc double characteristic, it’s very a lot of a chunk in some methods with “Miss Americana,” the Taylor Swift documentary that premiered at Sundance this yr and noticed that celebrity popping out of the closet as a political animal with no love misplaced for a sure breed of Republicans, Trump included. There are even comparable scenes the place we see the star discussing the ramifications as “ship” is about to be hit on a fateful textual content addressing a hot-button social matter. The essential distinction, although, is that whereas a few of Swift’s crew are attempting to speak her out of declaring a stance, Balvin has key gamers wanting to speak him into making declarations. His remaining conversion could also be a foregone conclusion, however he’s not going to be pulled into getting political for even a second with out plenty of kicking and brooding.
The latter high quality comes naturally to Balvin: One factor he has been daring about, as his star has risen, is his personal melancholy, as he has urged his followers to handle their psychological well being, too. For somebody who seemingly doesn’t need his music to be about something however uplift and good occasions, Balvin wears nearly the whole lot closely when he’s out of public view, with a resting-worry-face that appears at odds along with his standing as one in all Latin music’s foremost worldwide ambassadors.
He’s completely open about being vulnerable to panic assaults beneath the perfect of circumstances — and he develops extra good causes to have one because the clock ticks right down to the stadium present, with physicians and psychiatrists alike displaying up at his residence to deal with him for each anxiousness and laryngitis. Injections are made into the (Louis Vitton-clothed) buttock; capsules are mentioned. As protesters fill the streets to stand up in opposition to right-wing Colombian president Iván Duque, and Balvin appears to be the one entertainer not canceling his gig, he reads a few of his worst social media critiques aloud. All this candor is supposed to impress … and, really, up to some extent, it does.
The issue is that, if Balvin really has a conversion expertise, we by no means see it, so it stays unsure on the finish whether or not he’s actually skilled any sort of enlightenment about the necessity to handle what’s happening in his nation or lastly does so as a result of it’s really the profession path of least resistance. An interesting scene halfway by the movie has him assembly with journalists to advertise the stadium present, as he will get extremely defensive about his basically apolitical stance, letting you notice simply how far he has to go to succeed in any epiphany. There’s a little bit of a “Allow them to eat cake” tone-deafness to what he says to the reporters, however he’s making factors all alongside that ought to at the least be up for dialogue, about whether or not it’s incumbent on even the lightest entertainers to get heavy with the load of social commentary. In any case, he invitations one in all his foremost media tormentors to fulfill up and listen to out his exhortations. And if there’s a deus ex machina second, it’s when mega-manager Scooter Braun (who’s an govt producer on the movie) exhibits up the day earlier than the massive present to offer his shopper a pep speak about the way it’s the duty of nice artists to talk out.
Director Matthew Heineman could appear a little bit overqualified for this gig, since even a tortured pop hagiography is a little bit of a comedown, as exploring pits of hell goes, from extra clearly grueling earlier assignments like “Cartel Land,” “Metropolis of Ghosts” and “A Non-public Warfare.” So you’ll be able to think about how he would possibly’ve brightened when the unrest in Colombia was taking off proper as he confirmed as much as monitor what may have been a extra navel-gazing sort of showbiz story. However even when he was handed a story arc on a silver platter, it’s the little, private moments in “Medellin” that basically stick and present his filmmaking acumen. The belongings you keep in mind from it will not be the necessary ones a lot because the sight of Balvin peeing right into a bottle throughout a costume-change break in his four-hour present, or delaying his departure for the live performance to ensure each change in his home is turned off, as he sinks deeper into some kind of OCD/depressive pre-show funk.
That climactic live performance sequence seems to be the least fascinating a part of the present, as, amid the adoration and frolic, Balvin takes a time-out to make an announcement that’s caring however not wildly controversial — and also you’re pondering: All that angst for this? The star might have change into a brand new avatar of Colombian social consciousness, or he might have simply lined his ass; there’s inadequate proof to essentially guess, both manner.
But when the movie falls quick as a doable story of heroic enlightenment, it’s nonetheless fairly absorbing, in the in-between moments, as a research of a dude nonetheless figuring out the intersections between wild public success and neurotic torments. To the extent that its center and finest part is mostly a story of politics driving somebody already vulnerable to melancholy deeper into it, that’s when “The Boy From Medellin” feels most well timed.