Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Meet Walter Mercado

Netflix documentary film “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado” looks around the life and career of Walter Mercado, who was an iconic cultural figure for 120 million Latino TV viewers around the world. Although I must confess that I never heard of him before encountering a review on the documentary, I do not think I will ever forget this flamboyant man who joyously enjoyed his life and career as simply being himself from the beginning to the end.

After showing another daily life of Mercado in Puetro Rico, 2019, the documentary moves back to his early years. Born to a poor rural family in Ponce, Puerto Rico, 1932, he knew well he was different from other boys as your average oddball, and his mother encouraged his artistic sensibility as often emphasizing to him that being different is a gift to be cherished. Once discerning that his rural neighborhood was not for him at all, young Mercado eventually moved to the urban area of Puetro Rico, and, as a young and handsome lad with some androgynous aura, he soon found some success as a stage actor.

He subsequently became more prominent as appearing in a number of local TV drama series, and then there came an accidental chance which changed his life and career forever. When Mercado was invited to one TV show, he was asked to perform in front of the camera, and he talked about what interested him most besides acting: astrology. Although he simply rambled about many astrological stuffs for around 15 minutes, but the result became an unexpected hit among local TV viewers, and then he found himself suddenly becoming a major local TV star.

The documentary details how his unlikely success was possible at that time. While he certainly drew lots of attention with his theatrical attitude and gesture, Mercado earnestly presented his vivacious and likable personality in front of the camera, and the local TV viewers simply loved him for that. In addition, he happened to get associated with several right persons including Bill Bakula, who approached to Mercado with a number of good ideas for improving Mercado’s TV show and then eventually became his manager.

As his popularity reached toward the top, Mercado frequently wielded his flamboyant personality, and some of the most entertaining moments in the documentary come from a series of archival video clips from his beloved TV show. Usually wearing shiny and colorful costumes specially made for himself, he effortlessly held the attention of his numerous TV viewers with a charming mix of oddness and ambiguous sexuality, and that certainly made an indelible impression on many of them.

As the popularity of Mercado’s TV show was subsequently expanded all around Central and South American countries, everyone was interested in his personal life, which he has always kept to himself for many decades. Although it is quite apparent from his very distinctive attitude and appearance that he is a sexual minority person, he had neither admitted nor denied his sexuality in public, and everyone went along with that because, well, they did not need the answer from the beginning.

Anyway, Mercado’s TV show continued to become more popular during next several decades, and several interviewers including Lin-Manuel Miranda willingly tell us how his TV show was a big and important part of their early lives. To them, Mercado’s show felt like a lively and transgressive defiance against their conservative Catholic background, and they were all impressed in one way or another by how willing he was to cross boundaries and smash taboos while still embraced and adored by many fans out there as usual.

During its second half, the documentary briefly delves into how Mercado came to stop appearing on TV after 2006. It belatedly turned out that Bakula had exploited Mercado’s fame and popularity in many ways, and Mercado had no choice but to sue Bakula when he did not get paid anymore. Although he eventually won at the court, this legal dispute hurt Mercado a lot, and he even had a serious case of heart attack two days after his legal win.

During next 13 years, Mercado had lived quietly in his cozy residence located in Puerto Rico, but his spirit remained intact as shown from his interview clips in the documentary. Despite being 87 in 2019, he is willing to live more for enjoying his life more, and his longtime assistance Willy Acosta dutifully stands by him as talking care of his boss’s daily routines (No, they are simply a boss and an assistant, as far as shown from the documentary).

Although Mercado sadly died before having his 88th birthday, his last year gave him lots of delight as he was reminded of how much he and his TV show are still cherished by many people out there. In the scene showing his private meeting with Miranda and Miranda’s father, he is quite touched to learn how important his TV show was to Miranda and his grandmother. When he later attends a ceremony for honoring his TV show at a museum in Miami, Florida, everyone loves to see and greet him, and that is certainly another high point in his life and career.

In conclusion, “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado”, whose title is derived from one of Mercado’s catchphrases in his TV shows, is a good documentary which is both informative and engaging, and directors Kareem Tabsch and Christina Constantini present their interesting human subject with lots of affection and respect. I still do not give a damn about astrology, but I think Mercado is an admirable man who is also interesting to watch, and you will surely agree to that after watching this enjoyable documentary.

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