A testament to the healing power of music and friendship, “The Cuban,” now playing at drive ins, makes the most of strong performances from Louis Gossett Jr., Shohreh Aghdashloo and “Degrassi: The Next Generation” alum Ana Golja, to tell a story that brims with heart.
Golja is nineteen-year-old Mina Ayoub, a pre-med student who gave up her dream of becoming a musician after she was orphaned in Afghanistan and sent to Canada to live with her aunt Bano (Aghdashloo). In Afghanistan Bano had been a doctor, but, stropped of her credentials when she immigrated, she now works as the administrator of a long-term care home. Her dream is to see her niece practice medicine, but Mina dreams of the long-ago days she and her grandfather would make music together.
Working at the care home, Mina meets Luis (Gossett Jr.), an elderly man in the late stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Nearly catatonic, he is non-communicative, staring blankly into space, until Mina hums a familiar jazz tune. He responds, and soon she creates her own brand of musical therapy to help Luis remember his past. And what a past. He tells her of his career as a famous musician in Cuba and the love of his life Elana. Despite objections from the other care home staff who think Mina is overstepping medical boundaries, she continues out of affection for Luis who reminds her of her musical grandfather.
“The Cuban” could easily have been too earnest by half, a coming-of-age movie with heart tugging moments scored to a toe tapping soundtrack but the poignant performances elevate the predictable story.
Gossett Jr., who is silent for much of the running time, finds multitudes in the character. Luis’ life is scarred by loss and loneliness, and he carries that with him, but the sheer joy that he exudes when he hears or makes music shows the profound effect it has had on his life. The actor finds poignancy in the performance and never overdoes it.
Aghdashloo does domineering really well, but her overprotective streak toward Mina is tempered by, like everything else in this movie, by love.
Golja plays off both of them very well, allowing the relationships to take front and centre, holding her own with her seasoned co-stars.
“The Cuban” works best when it focusses on those relationships. It wanders some when Mina gets a love interest and during the larger scale musical fantasy sequence but as a story of the curative power of music, it works, has a good beat and you can dance to it.
The Cuban is on a Canada-wide drive-in theatre summer tour starting at the 5 Drive-In in Oakville with more dates at the 5 Drive-in tba. Additional dates currently confirmed include the Newmarket Drive In on Aug 5th, the Sunset Barrie Drive In on Aug 11th, and Starlite Drive-In Stoney Creek Drive In on Aug 19th. The movie is also starting to book some indoor cinemas and is booked into the Regina Rainbow Theatre Aug 14-16 and the Roxy in Saskatoon on Aug 15th.
The Cuban will come out on VOD in Oct/Nov.