May 4th, 2021
MOVIE: THE BOY FROM MEDELLIN
STARRING: J. BALVIN
DIRECTED BY: MATTHEW HEINEMAN
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
One aspect I absolutely love about being a film critic, and having an open mind about the films I watch, is discovering new things, new artists, and seeing the world through a different perspective. That is certainly true for recent documentaries, specifically about music, where Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry already opened my eyes to her amazing talent; Or Miss Americana, which revealed a vulnerable side to Taylor Swift, someone I had misjudged from the start. And now we get The Boy From Medellin, which captures a snippet of the life of reggaeton artists J. Balvin. In director Matthew Heineman’s (A Private War) recent film, he reveals an honest rise to stardom, where Balvin begins in his home of Colombia, fails in America, goes back to square one, and with hard work becomes the biggest sensation in his music genre. I know absolutely nothing about reggaeton music, but there’s much to be said, and discovered on The Boy From Medellin.
The basis of the documentary is capturing Balvin on his 2019 world tour, which was concluded with his homecoming performance back in Colombia. Much like many of these documentaries that are fluffy pieces for the artists they are focused on, The Boy From Medellin is not without its flaws of sanitized production (more on that later). However, what works is the structure that Heineman uses, starting with a one-on-one discussion and looking back at Balvin’s rough beginnings in Colombia. His move to Florida, struggling with his use of substances, and the failure in his relationship with his ex. Balvin is open about it all, his struggle with depression and how it changed his entire approach in life. There is also plenty of older footage of Balvin singing on the street corners, small clubs, and a fascinating moment where his crew performs for a handful of people in a bullfight arena. One cannot say that J. Balvin did not start from the bottom.
The second half of The Boy From Medellin is the build up to the concert in Colombia and Heineman balances that process with the uprising and protests from the Colombian people. It was a time of violence in the streets, with police officers using force without being provoked, with Colombian people crying for better healthcare, and their government to listen to them. It even leaves seventeen people dead, including a young man shot in the head, and the entire world looks to the voice of J. Balvin to say something, anything, that will generate support for the people fighting for their rights. This becomes a massive part of Balvin’s internal strife, never wanting to alienate anyone who would support him, a government that could lift him up, or any fan that would be affected by his political views. It’s a burden that most celebrities must wrestle with today, but for J. Balvin there’s an incredibly honest streak in him, a sensitivity that is proven with every photo he takes, and the awareness he has for his success.
The negative factor about The Boy From Medellin is when you scroll the producers segment, which includes Balvin himself and his manager Scooter Braun. It’s a name that fans should know because Braun is the manager of multiple major artists, including Demi Lovatto (who also had her own self-serving documentary at SXSW this year), Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, and David Guetta. Balvin’s manager even makes an appearance to have a conversation about the way he should respond to his detractors, and although it is an interesting fly on the wall moment for how an artist protects their image, it’s also an example of inauthentic promotion. My advice for Braun would be to step away from the project and let the camera tell the story.
Even though The Boy From Medellin has this gentle approach, there is still something about Balvin that’s undeniably talented. The rare footage of past performances show an authentic passion for his craft, pushing the music genre that continues to blend into the mainstream, and put on an impressive show for his fans. I can’t say that I’ll be playing the reggaeton station in my car, but The Boy From Medellin had me listening to his tunes while I wrote this review. If the goal was to capture some new fans, then The Boy From Medellin succeeds at that.
THE BOY FROM MEDELLIN PREMIERES THIS FRIDAY MAY 7TH ON AMAZON PRIME
Written by: Leo Brady