Acceptance of others and oneself collide in Viva, an overly familiar, if occasionally affecting Cuban import. The central character of Viva is Jesus (Hector Medina), who is hairdresser. He works primarily backstage at Havana nightclubs, prepping wigs and doing the make-up for a roster of drag performers. Jesus begins to dabble in performing at the clubs, in an effort to make more money. His stage name becomes Viva.
One night, while performing, someone in the crowd appears to be belligerent and disapproving of the drag culture. First question, why would he be at the club, then? The man, Angel (Jorge Perugorria), approaches Jesus and punches him, later revealing that he is his father.
Angel is clearly uncomfortable with his son’s lifestyle and how he chooses to spend his time and efforts to make money. Having been in prison for most of Jesus’ life, Angel doesn’t really know him or even earn the right to disapprove in that all-too-specific parent way. But, alas, he makes it clear, he does.
Jesus and Angel’s antagonistic relationship to put to the test when Angel starts living with Jesus and tries to convince – or demand – him to stop performing as Viva. This is Jesus’ life and he has no intentions of doing so. Their relationship takes another turn when Angel reveals another reason why he has come to his son after this many years.
Viva follows a familiar trajectory throughout and doesn’t offer much in the way of dramatic surprises. We have been taught the lesson of accepting yourself first and the rest will follow countless times and director Paddy Breathnach’s film, while glossy and proficiently made, doesn’t do much to separate itself from thematically similar previous films.
Medina and Perugorria’s performance elevate – sometimes immensely through their differences and challenges to accept each other – Viva far above its familiar trappings. They add nuance to a script (by Mark O’Halloran) that doesn’t really offer much. As father and son, or even as two people, they are complete strangers, who could not be more different. They are tasked with learning to accept each other’s differences.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
Viva boasts two solid and committed performances and certainly means well but never really manages to pack a punch. The screenplay is overly familiar and never adds much dramatic tension to the film.