Film Review by Kam Williams
Musical Biopic Chronicles Career of First White Mariachi Singer
Matthew “Mateo” Stoneman is a proverbial 98-pound weakling with eyeglasses and a concave chest. But don’t let that underwhelming physique fool you. For the nerdy redhead is also a felon who has done a long stretch behind bars in California for robbery and grand larceny.
But while most of his fellow inmates were pumping iron in an effort to become buff, Matthew served his sentence learning to speak Spanish and to play the guitar in order to be able to sing Mariachi, a genre of music he was introduced to by Latino cons he met in the slammer. And after being paroled, he struck out on his own around Los Angeles where he eked out a living between panhandling on street corners and competing with seasoned Chicano performers for gigs at parties and restaurants.
But because Matthew was Caucasian, he managed to gain a little notoriety as the world’s first white Mariachi singer, which led the L.A. Times to publish a lengthy profile on him. He would eventually venture to Cuba to record his own album over a number of years, enlisting the assistance of some surviving members of the legendary Buena Vista Social Club as sidemen. On the island, he also met the girlfriend who would bear a child, albeit of questionable paternity.
All of the above is a far cry from what one might expect in a biopic about a gringo born and raised in a tiny town in rural New Hampshire. For that reason, Matthew Stoneman makes for a fascinating subject in Mateo a delightful documentary directed by Aaron I. Naar (I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead).
An uplifting testament to the notion that it’s still possible for a sinner to find his true calling and turn his life around after first paying his debt to society.
Very Good (3 stars)
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 88 minutes
Distributor: XLrator Media