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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.11%
Worth A Look: 11.11%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 3 user ratings

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Chico & Rita
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by Jay Seaver

"All the right pieces, just not enough of some."
3 stars

For all the elements in "Chico & Rita" that seem like they should make it more exciting (animation! jazz! passion! globetrotting! jealousy! revolution!), it turns out to be a strangely inert movie. It's fairly unique - non-fantastical period romances are not the usual subject for an animated feature - and yet seldom gives the audience the feeling of something they've never seen before.

An old man shines shoes on a city street, returning home at the end of the day to listen to a program of decades-old music on the radio. The song takes him back to sixty years earlier, when Chico (voice of Eman Xor Oña) was a piano player from rural Cuba trying to break into the Havana jazz scene. He and best friend/manager Ramon (voice of Mario Guerra) start the evening with a couple of Yanqui tourist girls, but when Rita (voice of Limara Meneses) takes the stage, he knows he's found the perfect partner in more ways than one. Of course, being passionate musician types, the title characters have the tendency to be their own worst enemies, and as such eventually make it to New York separately, where their reunion proves just as tempestuous as their first go-around.

How somebody feels about this movie likely correlates well with how he or she feels about its central relationship, and I must admit to not feeling the love. Chico and Rita seem well-matched, but a romance that can drive a feature-length movie has to be more, and this movie never gives us a reason to think that this is one for the books. The characters are both too cool to start with, so their meeting never seems to throw one or the other off their game, and the passion they react with later never seems earned. As musicians, their work doesn't seem more brilliant together than apart (audience members with a greater appreciation of jazz than I have may dispute this, but it needs to be much more striking). It's the sort of shallow romance that seems like preparation for The Real Thing, but the movie instead expects the audience to accept it as that.

Maybe if writers Ignacio Martínez de Pisón and Fernando Trueba had given the characters something to overcome so that they could pull together, it would work, but the screenplay just doesn't offer that. Things are hard until they're not, and then insurmountable obstacles come out of nowhere. A climactic betrayal is spectacularly unmotivated given what we've been shown, and the ending is just as out-of-the-blue and dependent on greater investment than the movie allows.

It would be really nice if the script worked better, because almost everything else about the movie is top-shelf. The music is wall-to-wall high-quality stuff, whether it be samba, jazz, or bebop. The issue of how Cubans of African descent can become famous (and even crossover stars) and still face everyday discrimination in both American and even their native Cuba - where, pre-revolution, everybody but the white tourists seems to be a second-class citizen - provides interesting heft and subtext. Other bits of period detail are impeccable.

The character designs are quite expressive for their relative simplicity, although there are limits to that (directors Trueba, Tono Errando, and Javier Mariscal can get a lot of different expressions out of them, though not much variation on the same ones). There are many different animation houses credited, and every one of them does a nice job; there are a couple of sequences that are quite impressive, and everything is very smooth, even though cel-based animation is rapidly becoming a lost art. Sometimes elements don't quite fit together, though - real-life musicians often appear more caricatured than characters like Chico, Rita, and Ramon, and there's often the sense that two- and three-dimensional elements aren't quite touching.

This is, however, the dictionary definition of a movie where one's mileage may vary. The romance between the title characters may click with some, and that will make everything else better. There's enough that works in the movie that making that part just a little bit better would make this a very impressive movie.

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originally posted: 03/21/12 13:40:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Telluride Film Festival For more in the 2010 Telluride Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Miami International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Miami International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 47th Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 47th Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/23/13 TalynofTexas The music in this movie is amazing, sets a mood for a beautiful story 5 stars
3/22/12 Justin Venter Average movie, nothing spectacular 3 stars
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  DVD: 18-Sep-2012


  DVD: 18-Sep-2012

Directed by
  Javier Mariscal
  Fernando Trueba

Written by

  Limara Meneses
  Lenny Mandel
  Mario Guerra
  Eman Xor Ona

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