Review: El Súperstar: The Unlikely Rise of Juan Francés

The awkward title pretty much covers it.

El Súperstar: The Unlikely Rise of Juan Francés
Photo: Cinema Libre Studio

The awkward title pretty much covers it. El Súperstar: The Unlikely Rise of Juan Francés is about a regular sort (Spencer John French), a chubby, balding white guy in his early 30s (33 to be exact, what he terms his “Jesus year”) working a number of thankless jobs to make ends barely meet. Brought up in a Mexican American family after being orphaned at an early age, John discovers, after a vision, that he now has a talent for the “ranchero” music that his friends and family adore. Initially, Juan uses his gift to sing songs of mostly empathetic sadness to the frustrated Mexican working stiff, until unexpected fame goes to his head and leads to posturing and compromise.

The film is presented as a mockumentary and is every bit as cliché as the above would lead you to expect, which could potentially be beside the point if the execution were confident. Director Amy French, though, has, to put it mildly, a shaky command of tone. The jokes are mostly sub-MAD magazine lame (two fictional companies, for example, are called Caca and Pubes), and the ridiculous original songs are used for parody one moment, poignancy the next. The staging, even taking into account the deliberate lack of polish that this subgenre calls for, is dull and clumsy. And Spencer John French (the director’s sibling and co-writer) isn’t an especially compelling presence anyway. Juan’s rise is never credible or interesting.

El Súperstar is almost entirely unremarkable, but it has been made with an affection that is occasionally touching. Lupe Ontiveros and Danny Trejo, in particular, have an easy, believable chemistry that warms the film; and the Frenches have the good taste not to fuss over it, essentially congratulating themselves for their “humanity” the way any number of fashionably feel-bad hard-knock minority movies tend to. El Súperstar is a bad movie you’re sorta compelled to root for.

Score: 
 Cast: Spencer John French, Lupe Ontiveros, Danny Trejo  Director: Amy French  Screenwriter: Spencer John French, Amy French  Distributor: Cinema Libre Studio  Running Time: 90 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2008  Buy: Video

Chuck Bowen

Chuck Bowen's writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, The AV Club, Style Weekly, and other publications.

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