Jan 9, 2019
We’re back with another Netflix Original, this time from Argentina with a biopic of a famous cuarteto singer. For a couple other films involving the Argentinian film scene, check out “Perdida” (Episode #227) and “A Twelve-Year Night” (Episode #365). And if you have any suggestions, let me know at onemoviepunch.com or reach out over social media.
Today’s movie is “El Potro: Unstoppable” (2018), the Netflix Original biopic directed by Loreña Muñoz and written for the screen in collaboration with Tamara Viñes. The film follows the rise to fame and personal struggles of Rodrigo “El Potro” Bueno (Rodrigo Romero), the famous cuarteto singer, who helped to bring cuarteto music to Argentina and the world, until his untimely death in 2000.
Yesterday, I began my review of “And Breathe Normally” (Episode #373) with a discussion about female solidarity, and left a warning that I would be talking about toxic masculinity in today’s review. The two phenomena are related, the solidarity among women often being necessary because of the actions of toxic men. And I can’t think of a more toxically masculine subject than Rodrigo Bueno, who spent a great deal of his performing years living out the tantalizing lifestyle of his lyrics, involving illicit sexual affairs, excessive drinking, and constant partying. It’s a portrayed lifestyle that’s not all that different from today’s pop music, one only for those privileged enough to be able to afford it, monetarily and socially. As a young man, wholly unaware of his privilege, it sounded like some amazing paradise, because I was going to live forever and never have to deal with the consequences of my actions. As an older man, and father, I’ve come to appreciate never really experiencing that lifestyle, especially as the #MeToo movement continues to uncover all the toxic masculinity from previous generations, a necessary step towards a healthier society, but also one that will require a lot of men to confront themselves, and more importantly, others. I just have concerns about whether today’s film learns the right lessons from Rodrigo’s life.
“El Potro: Unstoppable” is a surprisingly faithful look at Rodrigo’s music and lifestyle, from his first single to his final concerts. For those unfamiliar with cuarteto, it is regional music style born in Córdoba, Argentina, a mixture of Spanish and Italian music and instruments with a generally upbeat tempo. It’s infectious, and Rodrigo was one of the major reasons for the genre’s lasting popularity. The concert shots, and the sound mixing, are both top notch, helping to capture not just the music, but also the incredibly rabid fanbase and temptations all around him. Celebrities, particularly in the days before profligate social media, had access to a special kind of exclusive, often libidinous lifestyle. And as long as that lifestyle isn’t directly harming anyone involved, it’s their world, but the fact was that Rodrigo was hurting people with his lifestyle. Not just his practically abandoned wife Pato (Malena Sánchez) and their son, but including whatever percentage of women likely left his hotel suite having been sexually assaulted. It looks quite tantalizing on the screen, but it also comes with a great deal of disgust, at least for me.
Now, my criticism of Rodrigo as a subject doesn’t mean I disliked Rodrigo Romero’s performance. If we’re going to have a film about a toxically masculine subject, flaunting his privilege and excess and being almost directly responsible for his untimely end, then I couldn’t ask for a better performance from Romero. The supporting cast is also above average, although generally fade into the background much like the folks who supported the actual musician. It’s probably the best film about Rodrigo’s life that could be made, but the question remains why? The film does make a weak effort to scapegoat Rodrigo’s drug use, and sometimes makes him out to be a lost, little boy at heart when he gets caught, but neither of those aspects of his life explain what boils down to toxic, male privilege.
“El Potro: Unstoppable” (2018) is a beautiful film about a terrible, yet popular subject, that also serves as an introduction to the early cuarteto music scene. While the film excels with the musical portions, and has great performances, the overall story seems to miss the right lessons to be learned from Rodrigo’s toxically masculine lifestyle. Music fans, or fans of Rodrigo’s music, should definitely check out this film, but there’s a high risk you’ll be disappointed at the messaging.
Rotten Tomatoes: NR
One Movie Punch: 6.6/10
“El Potro: Unstoppable” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently streaming on Netflix.