Review of: Juan Frances: Live (2007)
by James White
I laughed out loud when watching this first full length film by director Amy French. The film has been shown at HBO presents The New York International Latino Film Festival, the Berkshire International Film Festival and the Chicago Latino Film Festival. French and her brother Spencer John French are also credited with the original music. Amy French has written and starred in the short film Jack and Jill and has acted and directed for the Elephant Theater group. The tongue-in-cheek humor of Juan Frances: Live inexplicably works as dry British humor does. Occasionally it took me a second to realize why I burst out laughing. The film embraces the theater of the absurd by its delightful, subtle humor.
The story concerns a very white man, 33, who was born in Beverly Hills yet who was raised by his Chicana Nanny to be a typical Mexican boy after his missionary parents were murdered in South America. He works eight jobs and writes and sings and hopes to become a star. Spencer John French who plays Juan Frances at first seems to be a most unlikely choice: he is plump, with a voice as soft as his personality. Yet he carries the role perfectly, charismatically drawing in the viewer as he sings and dances and acts. He achieves real charm. The music is delightful, particularly the beautiful Roja music video. (Most of the musical numbers are very involving.) Juan Frances becomes the star he hopes to be, and as he does, the satire takes hold. There is a gentle on-going poking fun at Chicano life in Los Angeles, a ridiculous satire of a white man who identifies himself as a Chicano, and a generalized satire of how we identify with ethnic cultures. Toward the end of the film, Juan even travels to Africa, discovers that he has Scottish parentage and decides to become a Scottish singer. Finally he returns to his Chicano heritage. The moving last scene of the film, gracefully choreographed, is a kind of homecoming for him, with some of the best music.
Typical experiences of Chicanos living in the city are satirized: working as a gardener, being well fed by one's very loving mother, going to clubs and dancing and drinking, falling in love with an exotic Latin beauty.
The acting is uniformly strong. Besides Spencer John French as Juan Frances, Kerry Carney as Mrs. French, Elisa Bocanegra as Juan's close friend Chuchi, and Maria Esquival as Angelica perform their roles flawlessly. David Franco plays the flamboyant agent whom you can't help but notice every time he is on screen.
The film is described by the production company as "A Muscial Mockumentary Bi-Lingual Bio-Pic Improv Comedy With Heart". Indeed, it is. But its being so may also be its problem. It's the kind of film that if you don.t get it from the first, you're probably not going to like it. And you have to be ready for something quite original, different from possibly anything you have ever seen. I, for one, loved it.