It’s such a rarity to see a Cuban movie in American theaters that each film from Cuba crossing the border is a cause for celebration; that the new Cuban comedy “A Paradise Under the Stars” is likable and commercial is double cause for celebration. Undoubtedly inspired by the Aussie hit “Strictly Ballroom,” though not as accomplished, Gerardo Chijona’s romantic comedy is set in a Havana nightclub where a dozen characters meet, separate and reconnect, with their identities and family roles rapidly changing from scene to scene. Pic may not have the appeal and political relevance of the last Cuban pic to hit American screens, “Strawberry and Chocolate,” but it may delight adventurous viewers, particularly in cities with large Latino populations.
It makes sense that writer-director Chijona, a Havana U. graduate in English language and lit, began his career as a film critic, for his comedy draws on the tradition of Hollywood screwball and romantic comedies that revolve around mistaken identities and entangled relationships. Chijona developed his screenplay — whose seed was a docu he made about the Tropicana Cabaret — at the Sundance Institute, which further explains the American influence on his work.
The beautiful Sissy (Thais Valdes) wants to be a dancer at Havana’s hottest club, the Tropicana, just like her mother, but her father, Candido (Enrique Molina), a macho truck driver, forbids her. Candido accidentally taps his truck into handsome biker Sergito (Vladimir Cruz), who sports a star-shaped mole on his butt, similar to Candido’s. Candido takes the young man home, to Sissy’s delight, but to the dismay of his friend Promedio (Litico Rodriguez), who, suspecting that Sergito is Candido’s son, fears the incestuous complications that may develop.
Meanwhile, Armando (Santiago Alfonso), Candido’s rival and the club’s choreographer, intends to exact revenge on his nemesis by seducing Sissy. When she rejects him, Armando demotes her to the chorus line. Additional characters in the increasingly complicated yarn include Mabel (Daysi Granados), Candido’s old flame who warns Sissy of Armando’s intentions; Sonia (Jacqueline Arenal), Sissy’s competitor at the club who’s manipulated by several characters; and Olivia (Amparo Munoz), Sissy’s flamboyant mother, who abandoned her in childhood and suddenly returns from Spain.
True to form, meller includes seductions, pregnancies, false accusations, mysterious deaths and miracles, all of which get resolved in the final chapter, when former arch-enemies are forced to realize they’re blood-related. “Paradise” is a whimsical, unpredictable tale in which all the characters stumble in their search for happiness. It has great fun re-creating the colorful milieu of the famous Tropicana.
Helmer Chijona’s fast pacing makes some of the silly proceedings easier to swallow. A large cast of enticing performers, particularly the central romantic duo, enact their roles with admirably straight faces. Music of the club’s dance numbers is not particularly memorable, but ostentatious costumes and prevalent campy mood offer sufficient compensation, resulting in 90 minutes of more than passable entertainment.