Cuba is a really interesting place. I’ve actually been there, though only for a day, back a few years ago before the U.S. government again made it difficult to travel to the island. I only mention this to bring up the potential inherent in setting a story even partially in that country. The Cuban, opening today, opts to do just such a thing, though is unable to fully build upon the premise and the promise of that element, especially when it goes so far as to actually shoot in Havana (more on that in a bit). Despite a touching turn from Louis Gossett Jr. and some charming emotions, the final product sadly leaves you wanting more.
The movie is a drama about an unexpected friendship that develops in a nursing home. When naive pre-med student Mina (Ana Golja) gets her first job, it’s in a nursing home, which doesn’t start off like she’d expected, at all. However, she’s drawn to one of the residents in Luis Garcia (Louis Gossett Jr.), due to a jazz poster he has on the way. Luis, a former Cuban musician, suffers from dementia and initially, Mina’s attempts to get through to him, even if it’s just to feed him, are total failures. Then, when that poster, which is of Benny More, inspires her to hum a jazz tune, something inside of him comes alive. Through music, they begin to bond, with his past becoming vibrant in his mind once again, while she comes into her own in the present. Through that, a friendship begins to blossom, all due to a shared love of music. Sergio Navarretta directs a screenplay by Alessandra Piccione, with cinematography by Celiana Cárdenas. Supporting players here include Shohreh Aghdashloo, Layla Alizada, Giacomo Gianniotti, Lauren Holly, Jonathan Keltz, Shiva Negar, and more.
This film, while not particularly engaging, does give Louis Gossett Jr. a pretty strong role, while Ana Golja is a standout, overall. Their scenes together a realistic, warm, and at the heart of the story. The plot itself is too thin and lacks any urgency, but the two leads more than do their part to hide some of that flaw. Gossett Jr. is able to suggest a lot with his face, which is essential here. There’s even a case to be made that the focus should have even been on him more than it is. Golja is real good, but scenes with her family just aren’t as interesting, as we care more about Mina at work with Luis, as opposed to Mina with her mother, etc.
The Cuban just needed to rope you in a bit more. If it had done that, Alessandra Piccione’s script would have given director Sergio Navarretta more to work with. As it stands, there’s only hints of a fuller and more fully developed flick. Plus, while there are some scenes set in Cuba and shot in Havana, there isn’t as much Cuban personality as you’d expect. It’s sprinkled in, but it feels like a complete missed opportunity. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why you’re left wanting more. What could have been a gateway to a still mysterious country is mostly just used as window dressing.
Now playing, The Cuban has some nice music, a pair of solid performances, and its heart completely in the right place. Unfortunately, it falls a bit short on a narrative level. Now, if you’re curious to see Louis Gossett Jr. in a central role (possibly spurred on by his recent turn in HBO’s Watchmen), that may still be enough. For me, it wasn’t quite enough to warrant a recommendation, but it’s hardly a bad film. It’s just slightly bland when it shouldn’t have been. Your mileage may vary…
The Cuban is available to watch right now on VOD.
(Photos courtesy of Brainstorm Media)