María Montez: The Movie (2014) 

Throughout the 1940’s, Dominican actress Maria Montez starred in a surfeit of escapist fare for Universal Studios. Set in exotic locales, the films required little more of Montez than to look ravishing, with her natural beauty being enhanced by recent advances in the development of colour film processes. She was dubbed “The Queen of Technicolor”, so it is fitting that one of this biopic’s main strengths is its glorious cinematography, even if the film itself is too colourful for its own good.

Told in a non-lineal fashion, Maria Montez: The Movie flits back and forth between the actress’s childhood in the Dominican Republic and her life in the United States. Something of an outsider in her hometown of Barahona, Montez marries a much older man and moves to Puerto Rico before abandoning him to pursue an acting career in New York. Though she struggles to overcome the perceived disadvantages of her age, skin colour and accent, an agent convinces her that it is these very same attributes that set her apart from the thousands of other would-be starlets. Shortly thereafter Montez accomplishes her childhood dream of becoming a star, but without the happiness she assumed would follow.

This movie’s best moments are found in the most unexpected of places: a young girl’s awareness as she blossoms into womanhood; a father’s exasperation as he tries to shield her; and a mother’s knowing assessment of the way things are. These scenes are all well-acted and written with a care that’s absent whenever the story leaves her island home. Elsewhere, character development and motivations are expeditiously covered by countless letters to home and frequent journal entries. Montez’s success in Hollywood is suggested by a collection of old movie posters and a brief montage of concocted films, while her famed gift for self-promotion barely rates a mention. 

Instead the film takes on all the hallmarks of a Latin Soap Opera. Swirling Steadicams accompany each passionate embrace; there’s a poorly executed display of public drunkenness; and some mumbo-jumbo about a spiritual bracelet. Though Celines Toribio gives an engaging performance as the adult Montez, her ability to cry on cue seems to be caused more by her character’s supposed allergy to onions rather than any preceding event.

Apart from portraying the title character, Toribio also co-wrote and produced this film. Regrettably, despite her obvious passion for the project, it would appear that like Montez, her ambition exceeds her talent.

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Seymour Nebenzal is depicted directing a Hollywood film starring Maria Montez while WWII continues to rage on. Nebenzal was a film producer, not a director. The only Montez film he worked on was Siren of Atlantis, which he produced in 1949.

Disappointingly, instead of recreating scenes from Maria Montez’s actual movies, this biopic invents movies that never existed, giving them such imaginative titles as Wild Gypsy, The Young Driver and Once Upon a Time.

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