Director Matthew Heineman steps away from traditional cinematic storytelling in Amazon’s “The Boy from Medellín”. Delivering viewers, a week-long journey in the life of reggaeton sensation J Balvin as he returns to his home of Columbia to prepare for the concert of his life. To be completely honest, I was unfamiliar with who this singer was. I remembered hearing some of his songs while watching, but as a die-hard fan of 90’s hip-hop, rap, and R&B, J Balvin never fully crossed my radar. So, naturally I was interested in seeing what this guy was about, and what this week inside the life of a superstar would deliver.
Now, this film provides two primary things. It does serve as a traditional documentary (albeit briefly) in capturing the origins of J Balvin. The narrative touches on his childhood, his passion for music, the path and hurdles of his career, the stress of being a global star, and in being an icon in one’s home country. It also explores the divisive concept of “entertainers & politics” which certainly can vary depending on the person, the country, and the topic. In the United States general people in the entertainment industry are told to stick to entertaining when they speak on world issues and government politics. Which doesn’t slow-them down. In Columbia that’s not the case, as a major layer to this one is the debate Balvin had on whether to speak about the political unrest going on during his visit. Something that would be genuinely stressful when dealing with a country divided.
This was 2019 and protests lined the streets against the Columbian President which did put a damper on what was to be J Balvin’s homecoming concert in the biggest venue of his career. This is where the intrigue increased as Balvin, who was already in a bit of inner turmoil personally and professionally, was forced to contemplate whether to speak publicly about what was happening. However, this compelling subject-matter wasn’t given the deep dive that it felt like it was trying to give the impression of. There are intimate moments where Balvin shares his confliction on speaking about political issues as a man who wants to focus on his artistic expression.
It just didn’t feel like subjects went much deeper than that. It seemed to tip-toe around the meat of the topic with extended still shots of Balvin sitting or lying deep in contemplation. Something that did come off as mildly self-serious. Viewers can see the visual layers of inner-conflict on Balvin’s mannerisms. This torment just wasn’t really explored verbally. This made it a bit hard to get into Balvin’s head to understand what was going on in his mind. These vlog style close-ups began to feel repetitive, and despite this one being well-crafted from a technical aspect, it wasn’t the hard-hitting emotional journey it presented itself as.
That isn’t to say this was simply a surface-level documentary with nothing to offer. It does seem to have a manufactured tone and a guided message. On the other hand, it without question captures the stress of trying to please everyone as a person in the public-eye. Let alone the added pressure put on the shoulders of a person who very much cares about his perception to his fans as Balvin expresses himself to be. It was an enjoyable peek inside the wildly fun, yet relentlessly draining life of a singer. A polished documentary that provides its share of information, but one that also feels like it plays it safe in trying, like Balvin did during his visit to Colombia, to appeal to everyone by delivering a message filled with a good amount of empty calories.
Anthony J. Digioia II - SilverScreen Analysis © All Rights Reserved