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Chico & Rita - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Chico & Rita
Directing: B
Acting: B-
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Animation: B+
Music: B+

I enjoyed Chico & Rita mostly because of the animation and the music. The story, honestly, isn't much to write home (or in a movie review) about: jazz pianist boy meets talented singer girl. They make great music together. They make volatile love together. They lead a life in which happiness in love thwarts them the entire way. That's about the gist of it.

The animation doesn't look that great itself, at least at first glance. But the more you look at it, the more you feel absorbed in it. There's something about the thick-drawn lines, the huge lips on everyone's faces, the fluidity of movement on the part of both the characters and the camera -- it all serves the story well. This is a fully realized world, moving from Havana to New York in the 1940s.

There's a sort of lushness to it all, even though it's set exclusively in urban landscapes -- I can't recall seeing a single tree, but there are lots of streets and buildings and signs, all of them rendered in bold lines and colors. The level of detail is impressive. Pay attention to the backgrounds. Take any single object, and it appears to be simply drawn. But there are so many objects, and the camera swirls through and around them with sometimes wild abandon.

The music combines with these cityscapes to create a movie with a distinct personality. I must confess I'm not a huge fan of jazz, and that's essentially what this movie is about. Someone with a greater appreciation for it, and for the history behind it, might very well find this movie much more significant, important, and in some ways perhaps even insightful than I did. I merely found it generally enjoyable, an occasionally moving. But more importantly for someone like me, it's impressive -- and almost deceptively so. It's better than it may seem to many audiences. That's how a movie like this gets lavished with critical praise yet makes very little at the box office. This won't be a smash.

Although the story doesn't offer much in the way of genuine originality, save for the ethnicity of the lead characters (not a lot of movies centered on Cubans), it's still engaging. If there's any somewhat weak element to this movie, it's in the voice acting, particularly by Eman Xor Oña (Chico) and Limara Meneses (Rita). Granted, they speak in Spanish with English subtitles, but they still sound, when speaking, like they're just reading lines. Fairly regularly they emit gasps or grunts that are a little overdone. These are supposed to be passionate people, and there is no passion evident in their delivery.

They save that for the music, which Chico & Rita is filled with, and once the playing and singing starts, there are many moments that border on transporting.

One does wonder why this story should be told in the medium of animation to begin with. Perhaps there's an element of nostalgia in the intent, to give it an almost dream-like quality, which it often has. But for the most part this is a very straightforward love story, albeit the kind where the couple can't figure out how to make their relationship succeed. Rita and Chico are constantly either passionately throwing themselves at each other, or sparring angrily -- there's never any in-between. Their careers get in the way: after winning a music contest together, one finds success as a solo artist early in life, the other finds it later. But they never find it together.

The ending is happier than you might expect, but it's bittersweet, and that's clearly meant to be the tone of the story overall. It's not exactly a tragedy, but it comes close. That gives it an emotional heft that helps it overcome its mild shortcomings.

Limara Meneses & Eman Xor Oña are the voices behind volatile lovers CHICO & RITA.

Overall: B+
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