Review: J Balvin faces a crisis of conscience in bio doc ‘The Boy From Medellín’


Global fame meets local responsibility in Matthew Heineman’s music bio documentary, “The Boy From Medellín, ” an appealing tag-along portrait of Colombian reggaeton superstar M Balvin at a moment associated with noteworthy pressure in his Latin Grammy-winning , Coachella-headlining and streaming-dominant place ascendancy.

Filmed over a week in late 2019, when a triumphant international tour was set to conclude having a sold-out stadium date within Balvin’s hometown of Medellín, the movie tracks days of pre-concert reflection and jitters that initially revolve around the celebratory nature of this homecoming — how a talented middle-class child with music dreams and media savvy exploded directly into next-level international popularity plus influence.

What José Álvaro Osorio Balvin wasn’t expecting from home, however , was the demand that he use his voice for further than singing and rapping sexy, upbeat lyrics over infectious beats. With Colombians taking to the streets in record numbers to demonstration the unpopular hardline guidelines of President Iván Duque’s government, Balvin faced an increasing chorus of criticism. Followers, press and more outspoken Colombian musicians pointed to the performer’s glaring silence in the face of demonstrations that, in some cases, had led to tragic violence. Should this individual post something encouraging in order to citizens on social media? Say something on stage? Have belief that the apolitical optimism in the music was enough?

A stadium is packed with people holding up their cellphone lights.

José Balvin, better known as L Balvin, performs in concert in “The Boy Through Medellín. ”

(SCV JB Concert Doc Project LLC)


Balvin’s colorful, barrier-busting stardom was built on a language-proud, inclusive image of Latin awesome, one that he wished might supplant his country’s damaged image as a haven meant for drug violence. Subsequently, the question of whether to address immediate political realities in his personal backyard — unrest that resulted in concerts in other towns being shut down in the days leading up to his own — creates a percolating emotional twine throughout the film. (Conversely, one particular imagines that for movie director Heineman — no stranger to thickets of turbulence after “ Affiliation Land ” and “ City of Ghosts ” — the civil unrest shadowing his pop-star doc must have seemed familiar territory. )

Another factor adds to the sense of unease. Amid public scenes of enthusiastic fan engagement (which he or she clearly adores) and private scenes of Balvin hanging out with friends, team members, his sweetheart and family in his plush hillside retreat, Balvin challenges with anxiety and depressive disorders. He’s been upfront about this in online videos and selection interviews, and offers supportive words towards the similarly afflicted during their shows. At the beginning, we see footage from a concert in Mexico where he touchingly translates the glow from mobile phones that fans are holding aloft with the “light” he or she assures everyone is possible.

In Medellín, he or she tries to manage his mood — with a spiritual consultant and meditation in addition to a psychiatrist and medication — yet what’s clearly worrying your pet is that, however he chooses to publicly respond, some of his fandom will be annoyed. Balvin’s the type, after all, which says he will spend the rest of a day thinking about that one child who missed out on an autograph or photo. But this sensitivity means he also offers the ability to defuse tense situations; at one point, he heads off a potential argument, contacting a younger activist rapper who’s been insulting him online — their own meet-up becomes a respectful airing of viewpoints. (A individual encounter, by contrast, feels stilted and engineered. In a confab with his managers Scooter Braun and Allison Kaye, also executive producers on the film, they are made to appear sage-like, counseling Balvin on how musicians can change the world . )

Listeners these days seem to be more tolerant of their idols’ political engagement, and it’s no real surprise this briskly edited, star-sanctioned coming-of-age saga ultimately turns out well. The concert portion is the usual you-are-there backstage/onstage footage, but the manner in which Balvin solves his crisis of conscience makes for a fulfilling resolution. Ego-stroking bio documents being a cottage industry these days, Balvin is one of the more disarmingly open figures to get this type of treatment. But it’s also nice that “The Young man From Medellín” makes the majority of its allotted time with a busy phenomenon to at least dabble in the ins and outs of an artist contemplating his place in the world.

‘The Boy From Medellín’

In Spanish plus English with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Playing: Available May 7 upon Amazon Prime Video