Alexandre Rockwell’s “Somebody to Love” is a valentine to Rosie Perez, whose career includes numerous bigger and more prestigious pictures but who surely must cherish this modest and amusing little heart-tugger for the way in which it showcases her unique beauty, talent and personality.
This is a Perez picture in the way Mae West movies belonged to West, and among the many actors supporting her are Michael DeLorenzo, Harvey Keitel, Anthony Quinn, Steve Buscemi, Sam Fuller and Quentin Tarantino--a pretty nifty lineup.
Through all her many moods, Perez’s Mercedes remains pretty adorable as she struggles to make it into the movies while supporting herself as a downtown L.A. taxi dancer. The key man in her life, although she is loath to acknowledge it, is DeLorenzo’s Ernesto, a young Mexican day laborer whose love for her knows no limits.
Used to fending for herself since childhood, Brooklyn-born Mercedes tries to hold off the dangerously innocent Ernesto while finding herself not entirely immune to his tender, persistent passion. Mercedes can’t see the irony or contradiction in her hunger for stardom so that “everyone will love me, and I won’t need anybody.”
Meanwhile, she’s romantically involved with Keitel’s hilarious yet pathetic Harry, a vintage TV actor long on the skids who she hopes will help get her a break into pictures and also leave his wife. (If the question were put to her, she’d probably be honest enough to admit that she cares more for what he might do for her, a dubious possibility at best, than for the man himself.)
Quinn is a gruff, kindly minor hood who takes Ernesto under his wing; Buscemi is a very together, totally non-campy drag queen taxi dancer who is Mercedes’ staunch, supportive friend; and director Sam Fuller, in one of his best in-front-of-the-camera performances, is a feisty, legendary Hollywood director who recognizes star quality in Mercedes. Tarantino has a quick, energetic bit as a bartender in a pretentious restaurant where Ernesto, as Quinn’s gofer, has taken Mercedes for dinner.
“Somebody to Love” is as shamelessly sentimental as a Damon Runyon-esque fairy tale and could have used a lighter touch, but it has lots of heart and good humor. Rockwell has had major assistance from production designer J. Rae Fox, from great seedy locales and from cameraman Bob Yeoman, who has photographed everything gloriously. The soundtrack’s many infectious songs and Latin-tinged score are also major assets.
Inspired by Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria,” Rockwell overreaches in dedicating his picture “to the memory of Federico and Giulietta [Masina],” but he certainly has served Perez well.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong language, some violence and sexual content. Times guidelines: The use of four-letter words is constant; the violence and sex are milder by comparison.
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‘Somebody to Love’
Rosie Perez: Mercedes
Michael DeLorenzo: Ernesto
Harvey Keitel: Harry
Anthony Quinn: Emilio
Steve Buscemi: Jackie
Sam Fuller: Sam Silverman
A Lumiere Pictures presentation. Director Alexandre Rockwell. Screenplay Rockwell, Sergei Bodrov. Producer Lila Cazes. Executive producer Jean Cazes. Cinematographer Bob Yeoman. Editor Elena Maganini. Costumes Alexandra Welker. Music Tito Larriva. Production designer J. Rae Fox. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
* In selected theaters in Los Angeles and Orange counties.