The Boy from Medellin
Directed by: Matthew Heineman
Featuring: J Balvin
Iconic documentary director Matthew Heineman took a chance in 2018 to direct a feature-length film called “A Private War.” In that film, Heineman focuses on a female war correspondent Marie Colvin. His eye for a fascinating subject worked because he drove our attention to the issue, intent on making her journey as vital to us as it was to him.
He brings the same zeal to his latest documentary, “The Boy from Medellin,” featuring Colombian Raggaeton sensation José Álvaro Osorio Balvin, better known as J Balvin. “The Boy from Medellin” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
Known as the “Prince of Raggaeton,” Balvin, who won several Latin Grammys, emigrated to the United States at age 17 to learn English. He eventually made his way back to his native Colombia and found his calling. The documentary starts with a concert performance in Mexico City. From that performance, J Balvin has the audience in the palm of his hands; they are mesmerized by his beats and encouraged by his words.
In as much as they are in his moment, he is in his own moment up on stage. Heineman manages to put us in that moment too.
However, getting to that point is the journey that Heineman (“City of Ghosts”) explores as J Balvin prepares to perform in his hometown of Medellin, Colombia.
J Balvin is colorful in his appearance and words, yet the documentary paints him as a very human being. It doesn’t bare his soul, but Heineman brings out the performer as J Balvin returns home, soaking in the culture, regaining his roots.
Heineman takes us back to Jose’s beginnings with an unexpected humility as the young Balvin explores his music and wanting more: Balvin had a presence about him to be bigger than life in Miami and then in NYC. He eventually returned to Colombia, where he found other artists to collaborate with, building his reputation and art.
I hadn’t heard his music, but I had heard of him, and I was impressed. I don’t speak a lot of Spanish, but there is electricity about him and a rare honesty; he is who he is. And, yet, his onstage personae are as separate from his offstage personae as it is intertwined. I very nearly felt like I was watching Clark Kent transform into Superman and back again on screen; it was impressive.
Through it all, as he preps for his return performance at the Estadio Atanasio Girardot to a sold-out crowd and an eight-hour performance, Jose’s anxiety creeps up; he has reservations about being successful. He wants to help his people, his familia. The politics of his return, the affected citizens of Colombia who don’t have enough resources also find their way into the documentary. With good reason – J Balvin has a platform.
“The Boy from Medellin” balances the topics that will appeal to general audiences and something new for fans with the politics of his return home and his responsibility as an artist: “If they are marching it is because something is not right . . . I ask for peace, I ask for love . . .and we need you to listen,” José shouts from the stage to the government.
Matthew Heineman proves once again to be the right eye for this particular subject. “The Boy from Medellin” is as electrifying as its subject. It is Recommended.