Musician brothers Cesar and Nestor leave Cuba for America in the 1950s, hoping to hit the top of the Latin music scene. Cesar is the older brother, the business manager, and the ladies' man...
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Antonio dotes on his mute brother and promises him a better life, symbolized by Baton Rouge. He's a gigolo who moves in with Isabel, wealthy and separated from her husband. She has ... See full summary »
Musician brothers Cesar and Nestor leave Cuba for America in the 1950s, hoping to hit the top of the Latin music scene. Cesar is the older brother, the business manager, and the ladies' man. Nestor is the brooding songwriter, who cannot forget the woman in Cuba who broke his heart.Written by
Regarding the recent death of Latin superstar Celia Cruz, I was surprised by the lack of mention of her role in this film in the various obituaries and tributes I read. I don't know if she made movies in Cuba, but she was not only a powerful positive musical presence in "The Mambo Kings" but her character acting was outstanding and very charming. If you don't know anything about her and want to get an idea of who Celia Cruz was, see this movie.
And that is far from the only reason to do so. This is one of my favorite romantic films for adults, as opposed to the juvenile and/or formulaic fare that passes for romance in American cinema. Armand Assante should have been at least nominated for best actor that year, he is so strong and yet vulnerable and lovable as the big brother with a powerful code of honor to his art and his family. The other kid, who has gone on to bigger and not necessarily better things, is also fine, considering his well-publicized effort to deliver his lines phonetically, since he did not speak English at the time. (No, I'm not forgetting his earlier fine contributions to several Almodovar films.)
OK, Roscoe Lee Browne and Cathy Moriarty were a bit miscast, but what about the stroke of genius to have Desi Arnaz Jr play his father? The whole "I Love Lucy" segment of the film, while somewhat contrived in its importance to the story, is funny, well-done, and helps to bring the whole Cuban-American experience in New York into sharper focus, with the portrayal of Arnaz as both a superstar idol and a man very close to his roots.
The music is fabulous, both the use of classic Cuban tracks and new music recorded for the film. Among the latter, "Sweet Maria of my Soul," the theme song performed by both Antonio Banderas in the film and Los Lobos over the end credits, was nominated for Best Song but was beat out by some plastic Disney tune. It is so organic, so romantic and soulful, it should be a classic movie song for the ages. Well, it will be for me...
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