The Boy from Medellín (2020) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A superstar back in his hometown

Documentary film “The Boy form Medellín”, which was released on Amazon Prime two days ago, presents a close look into one eventful week surrounding J Balvin, a Colombian raggaeton singer which has been quite popular around the world during last several years. Although it is not that informative to audiences who are not so familiar with his many hit songs (Full disclosure: I am one of such people), the documentary did a fairly adequate job of showing us some engaging personal aspects of its human subject, and Balvin comes to us as a sensitive and spirited artist worthwhile to observe.

At the beginning, the documentary opens with Balvin doing a big concert in Mexico City, and we see how he effortlessly energizes the audiences via his talent and presence. While I must tell you that the Spanish lyrics of his songs did not feel that close to me due to language barrier, the excitement of thousands of audiences was palpable to me at least, and I could easily see how he could become a rising new star in his field within only a few years.

Of course, his early career years were not so easy at all. When Balvin was 17, his middle-class father suddenly became unemployed, and his family was subsequently put into economic hardship. That made Balvin quite determined to be a singer successful enough to support his family, so he moved to US for following his dream, but he soon found himself struggling a lot more than expected. Frustrated with how his life and career were going nowhere, he often became quite depressed, and he frankly speaks to us about those gloomy times before he eventually returned to his hometown city Medellín.

Anyway, things gradually got better for Balvin as he continued to focus on music after his return. As shown from a series of archival footage clips shown in the documentary, he was willing to grab any opportunity to perform his songs in front of others, and that eventually helped him taking his first forward step toward stardom. Once he got his first big break, everything went pretty well for him during next several years, and he also became a big social media figure as he openly talked about his experience with depression via his Instagram account.

When he came back to Medellín for a homecoming concert in 2019, Balvin was eager to bring lots of optimistic energy to his dear hometown. As many of you know, the city has been pretty notorious for drug crime (Remember Pablo Escovar?), and, as an international superstar nicknamed “the Boy from Medellín”, Balvin wanted to give a big positive public impression there while entertaining his fans out there as usual.

At first, things seemed to be going well when Balvin arrived in Medellín a week before the concert. We see him casually interacting with many people excited to see him, and we are a bit amused when he later tells us a bit about his rather compulsive habit of being nice to others. Despite his current status, he does not forget at all where he was once, and he also has good relationships with a number of associates and collaborators working under him, who are all ready to help and assist him as much as possible before the concert.

They and Balvin frequently spend time in a slick modern house belonging to him, whose interior environment feels like a playground with all those big dolls and action figures. Within this rather insular space, Balvin and his people discuss on a number of matters involved with the concert, and the most important one is whether the concert can be held despite the ongoing social/political turmoil in Colombia. As days go by, the situation becomes more volatile all around the country, and Medellín is no exception as shown from a brief scene later in the documentary.

While being more aware of what is going on outside, Balvin also finds himself pressured by heaps of public demands and criticisms poured upon him. As a major public figure, he is expected to show where he stands on this national issue, but, as pointed out to him at one point, there is no way for him to avoid criticism regardless of whether he remains silent or speaks out. As he becomes more nervous and uncertain, his physical condition seems to be affected by his inner conflict, and everyone around him is certainly concerned about the possibility of the last-minute cancellation.

Balvin simply wants to focus more on his music as before, but he is reminded again of why he cannot be free from politics as a well-known artist – especially after he made a small misstep on his Instagram account. In the end, he decides to do what he thinks he should do during the concert, and director/co-producer Matthew Heineman, who also served as a co-editor in addition to serving as one of several cinematographers for the documentary, skillfully delivers that impactful moment after vividly conveying to us the sheer excitement around and behind the stage.

On the whole, “The Boy from Medellín” is another typical contemporary star musician documentary following the footsteps of other recent ones such as “Miss Americana” (2020) and “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry” (2021), and, though I only give it 2.5 stars, I was entertained to some degree while appreciating its supposedly unpretentious portrayal of Balvin. As far as I can see from the documentary, he is an interesting musician who is also a decent dude, and I guess I should check out some of his albums later just for some more knowledge and experience.

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