Film Review – Cuban Fury
Most romance movies are targeted to a female audience. The protagonist is usually a woman, and the story arc tends to follow her trajectory towards a successful love match. It’s a tried and true formula that works well when done right, but it’s hard to find anyone willing to put in the effort anymore. (Not impossible, but hard. I LOVE YOU AUSTENLAND!) Romance movies nowadays are either crass, not actually funny, reinforce negative lady stereotypes, or feature the blandest of bland guys as the love interest. There’s a formula; how hard can it be? But every once in awhile, the recipe is tweaked in a really good way, and a romance movie for dudes is born. A good example of this is The Wedding Singer. It’s the story of a guy who undertakes a journey to woo a woman and discovers himself along the way. (Which is kind of the plot of all dude romances.) If done right, a male-centered romcom can be satisfying for both men and women. The new movie Cuban Fury directed by James Griffiths, is a great new example of the genre.
Cuban Fury stars Nick Frost as Bruce, a successful machinery engineer with a secret; in his childhood and tween years he was a competitive Salsa dancer. His bright future in dance ended one night when he was attacked by bullies who made him realize other folks might not think competitive Salsa dancing the most masculine of sports. Bruce puts dancing behind him and moves on with his life. Until he meets his new boss, Julia (Rashida Jones), whom he finds enchanting. He discovers that she is into Salsa, and – while he is afraid to open that particular can of worms – he thinks he may have the key to her heart. Things are complicated though. Turns out, he’s not as good a dancer as he used to be, and the office douche, played by Chris O’Dowd, has also set his sights on Julia. Bruce must get back into shape, face his demons, and summon the courage to ask Julia out. Also, there is a dance off.
This is NOT a schlubby-guy-gets-the-beautiful-girl-for-no-reason-that-anyone-can-tell-other-than-he-wants-her kind of story either. Nick Frost is fat, and in a lot of movies that would automatically make him a sad sack, but not here. Bruce is not a loser; he just thinks he is. He has a good job at which he excels, friends who care about him, and a sister (Olivia Colman) who works at a bar who lets him eat all the maraschino cherries he wants. He has no confidence in his love life because deep down he believed those bullies when they told him dancing was for losers. Since he was so good at it, he must therefore be the biggest loser of all. This self-hatred is what he must overcome in order to get the girl.
Being this is a male fantasy, it is the female lead who is somewhat hazily presented. We don’t get to know her very well, and Bruce seems to be pursuing her based mostly on her looks and love of Salsa. Rashida Jones doesn’t have much to work with here, but her character just seems so nice and goofy that of course Bruce would dig her. She’s good at her job, and who wouldn’t be psyched to date someone who was that into heavy machinery? Jones manages to take a thinly written character and make her both likable and believable.
The only real concern I had with this movie is it’s got a flaming gay stereotype as one of Bruce’s new dancing friends. I’m always torn about this. On the one hand, he is accepted by the other characters pretty matter-of-factly, and there are flaming gay men that live in the universe, so this portrayal is in the realm of possibility. On the other hand, some of the humor does depend on this character’s exaggerated behavior, and if I were a gay dude, I might be tired of the same old broad representation. However, I am not a gay dude, and therefore I don’t get to decide what is and isn’t offensive for anyone who is. So it’s there. It could have been worse, but it also could have been much better.
There is absolutely nothing original here, and it works – not in spite of that, but maybe because of it. Cuban Fury hits a lot of the right beats and takes the viewers exactly where they want to go. The dancing and music are great, and Nick Frost has a very engaging presence. Chris O’Dowd is also really great at being horrible. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s good and will make everybody’s date night a little more enjoyable.
Also, be sure to checkout our interview with actor/writer/producer Nick Frost.