By R. Kurt Osenlund
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
If Billy Elliot beat his face and ditched ballet slippers for stilettos, he’d be a close cousin to Viva’s Jesus (Héctor Medina), whose paternally frowned-upon drag pursuits mirror Billy’s I-just-wanna-dance woes. An Irish-made film set in vibrant Havana, Viva shows a deep respect for physical performance, be it the ferocious club numbers from veteran queen Mama (Luis Alberto García) or the boxing matches Jesus’s estranged father (Jorge Perugorría) used to coach. But as Jesus progresses from hairdresser to headliner-in-training, Viva goes one step further, exploring the link between drag families and given families, which—as anyone who’s seen a certain RuPaul reality show will attest—can be dicier than the fiercest death drop. Jesus is able to foster his relationships with both, and, to the credit of director Paddy Breathnach and newcomer Medina, when he learns his craft and takes the stage, he also takes firm hold of your attention.
Viva is released in select U.S. theaters on February 5.