Just another gay coming-of-age story. It’s a measure of how quickly American culture’s attitude toward homosexuality has changed over the past decade that we can utter such a phrase in 2016. The challenge for anyone making a film about gay adolescence today is not how to make it accessible for mainstream audiences, but how to make it fresh. Irish director, Paddy Breathnach, takes on this challenge in his new film, Viva, playing this week at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
Jesus (Hector Medina) styles wigs for drag queens at a cabaret bar in Havana, but dreams of taking the stage himself. Cabaret proprietor, Mama (Luis Alberto Garcia) mentors Jesus in his new role as “Viva,” until Jesus’ father, Angel (Jorge Perugorria), who left when Jesus was a child, makes a violent reentry in his life and insists Jesus quit the drag troupe.
Mark Halloran’s script takes some implausible turns and suffers from broad-brush character development, but Medina brings winning tenderness to Jesus’ struggle for self-determination. Beautifully intimate interior shots and sweeping panoramas of a gritty Havana, which Angel calls “the most beautiful slum in the world,” make the film a visual pleasure.