THE CUBAN: Good Jazz & acting; not much else
* * 1/2 (out of four)
It’s hard to fault a film that has its heart so squarely in the right place.
I’m speaking of “The Cuban,” an enjoyable but fairly ridiculous indie from late last year.
Now available for streaming, it’s the fictional story of aging Havana jazz legend Luis Garcia, whose nickname was “El Guitarrista.” Very nicely played by Lou Gossett Jr., Garcia is now in a Canadian nursing home with rapidly advancing dementia and Alzheimer’s. When rookie staffer Mina Ayoub is assigned to make sure Luis eats, she discovers his hidden musical past and gradually breaks through -- using home-cooked Cuban food and a creaky portable hi-fi.
If that sounds a bit thin for a two-hour tale, never fear; writer Alessandra Piccione adds a pile of subplots for extra interest: Mina’s charismatic boyfriend; her aspirations for a singing career (which she was forced to set aside by the domineering aunt she lives with -- who also happens to be an administrator at the nursing home!); the aunt’s long-ago relationship with a mysterious woman; culture clash involving Mina’s extended Muslim family; and various co-workers who don’t like the young lady’s unorthodox approach to elder care.
Indeed, there’s so much going on in “The Cuban” that the film doesn’t develop it all very well -- though unilaterally strong performances help flesh things out more than the script really deserves.
Gossett shifts too quickly between oblivion and joyful awareness -- but that is probably as much the director’s decision as his own; on the whole, it’s very strong work from the aging star.
Ana Golja brings enormous warmth to Mina; similarly likable is the handsome Giacomo Gianniotti playing her love interest. Shohreh Aghdashloo, looking for all the world like a 21st-century Anne Bancroft, is also very good as Mina’s aunt. Lauren Holly gets the thankless role of a shockingly cold-hearted nursing-home honcho -- a characterization pushed way over the top simply for the sake of generating conflict.
When Mina loses her job for ignoring Luis’s anti-salt diet, it’s just one of many moments when believability sails right out the window: Attentive and conscientious senior-care workers like Mina don’t come a dime a dozen, and I doubt they ever get instantly fired for this kind of personal (and successful) attention.
Even more unlikely is the movie’s climax, in which several characters spirit Luis out of the home for a night on the town; it’s tough to enjoy this scene as an emotional apex because it is so patently absurd.
Yet I still feel folks who pay to stream this film will not feel ripped off; its overall message about the power of music is hard to resist -- especially as floated on the strains of such brassy, pulsating, joyous Cuban jazz.
“The Cuban” is available through the website for Lewisburg’s Campus Theatre; renting it this way helps support that worthwhile venue.
directed by Sergio Navarretta
Run time: 109 min.
Not rated; brief strong language and some sexuality