IT'S 1950s HAVANA. People are dancing and men are wearing white suits. Chico, an ambitious songwriter, finds the voice he's been looking for in the lovely, fiery Rita. She's got her own success thing going, though, so he has to woo her. Then Chico's other girlfriend and Rita get into a nude wrestling match.
Settle down, they're cartoons. (It should be noted, however, that Rita's cartoon nipples are mesmerizing.) Chico & Rita's animation feels constantly churning, as if the characters are all—between all their skirt twirling—making butter in an enormous barrel. That's great for all the dancing, car chases, and sexy situations, but it also gives the film a creepy, vertiginous feel.
The colors are vibrant and the style very strongly belongs to the film's animator, Javier Mariscal—but when his style doesn't work, Rita's face looks like a clown mouth. I'm listening to the beautiful voice of Idania Valdés, who performs Rita's songs, but all I'm thinking: clown mouth clown mouth.
The Spanish Chico & Rita is pretty obviously a fictional love story set within an earnest love letter to 1950s Latin jazz by directors Mariscal, Tono Errando, and Fernando Trueba. When real-life Latin jazz sensations start sliding into the film, though, it gets clunky, drawn out, and insidery—unless you're already into the scene, watching Chico & Rita starts to feel like standing in a club with a friend who won't stop snapping his fingers and insisting, "Isn't this great?"
Jazz trappings aside, though, Chico & Rita remains a typical romance about people being jerks to one another. While Chico and Rita's love brings them nothing but pain and torment, at least there's also that cartoon nude wrestling.