‘The Boy from Medellín’ was shot over one week in the life of Latin Grammy-winning musician, José Álvaro Osorio Balvín, who goes by the name of J Balvin.
To open the film, we follow J Balvin, a Youtube success story, as he jumps on stage in Mexico. He sings in Spanish to stay true to his people. The people in the crowd hold up their cell phones, not only to record his every move but to let him know they are there for and appreciate him.
He’s dressed in pastels, which makes sense once you get to know him. He’s a man of peace, and the calming colors seem to fit his very nature. Having gone through a life-altering battle with depression and anxiety that still haunts him, he has welcomed many suggestions on healing his mind and body. He lights candles, meditates and goes to therapy to calm himself. As the documentary progresses forward, we learn how he became a star and also see how easily that star could tumble. All it takes is one mistake in the eyes of the fans. This show over, he now gets ready for the most important concert of his career, a sold-out show in his hometown of Medellín, Colombia. For the rest of the film, we watch him prepare and deal with many issues that arise during the week leading to the concert.
Director Matthew Heineman first gives us the performer on stage and then introduces us to who he is off. José is a grateful, loving soul who appreciates his fans and believes in the power of positive thinking. He’s still a youthful spirit, filling his house with childish statues of Tony the Tiger, Micky Mouse, Marvin the Martian and other such cartoon figures, yet has his house, metaphorically speaking, in order, otherwise.
At the heart of this film is the politics in his country of Colombia. There’s ongoing civil unrest, protests in the streets night after night, and now, the death of a student named Dilan. Thousands march to protest the President and sabotage of their historic peace accords. They demand economic and social changes, yet the government refuses to listen.
José Álvaro Osorio Balvín wants to stay out of politics, but the Colombian reggaeton singer, J Balvin, keeps getting dragged in with the expectation that he say something to the leader of the country on behalf of the protestors.
He sees the situation as being a Catch 22. If he says something, it won’t be enough. If he doesn’t, he’s indifferent to their plight. He objects to the notion that an artist is supposed to be the country’s President and say what’s right and wrong. He tells a journalist that if he says or does the wrong thing, people will see him as an SOB. Getting involved in what’s going on in the country politically isn’t why he started a career in music. On his own behalf, he explains that ‘People see the glory, but they don’t know the story.’ He’s attacked for the situation going on in the country when it isn’t his fault. Through this documentary, he wants to remind those fans who watch that his name is not on the ballot.
It’s suggested that he’s a star of detachment and that he ‘watches from Miami but stays out of the flames.’ It seems this couldn’t be further from the truth. He lives in Colombia and he loves his country. He was born there, raised there, and will die there. The criticisms on social media have been harsh and he has been given the informal title of a ‘Lukewarm’ artist when it comes to issues that are important to the fans. Surprisingly, one particular social media critic received a message back from José. He told the man he’d like to meet him face to face so he can grow to understand the man’s problem with him.
José and his alter ego J Balvin take giant steps to please people, sometimes over his own happiness. His spiritual advisor asks him to pay attention less to what the people say and not take it in. He doesn’t listen. But that’s okay; he’ll pop more anxiety pills and make sure he’s able to give his fans all he is.
The documentary is well done in that it plays (perhaps introduces you to) his music, on stage and through video clips, and then takes you through his life behind the scenes. The more you know, the more you’ll be on his side. And don’t worry, politics being such a large part of a documentary about a musician won’t feel out of place. Considering the political climate we’ve been in for the last decade, it seems to fit in perfectly.
Releases Friday, May 7, 2021 on Amazon Prime.
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The Boy from Medellín
Director: Matthew Heineman
Star: J Balvin
Run Time: 1h 30m
Genres: Documentary, Biography, Music, Amazon Prime Video