SUNDANCE 2020 DOCUMENTARY REVIEW! A household name in the Latinx culture, Walter Mercado, is the subject of the wonderful new documentary, Mucho Mucho Amor. The doc follows his rise to worldwide recognition from humble beginnings and sudden disappearance from the spotlight. What happened to this legendary icon? Why did he vanish, and where is he now? Directors Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch have created a heartwarming testament to a man whose singular message was one of love and inclusion.
The film begins with family and fans the world over theorizing on where Mercado was. The filmmakers take us to his relatively humble two-story home in Puerto Rico. Aged but still fabulous, we first see Mercado sliding a VHS tape into a player, and reminiscing. The answer is yes, Mercado is still around. Yes, he is still just as charming and fast with a quip to dodge any uncomfortable questions.
The film begins in the 1930s with pictures of Mercado and his family in rural Puerto Rico. Sheltered by location and a supportive family at an early age, Mercado was encouraged to read books, play the piano, and follow his passions. From there, he went straight to University and into the theatre, honing his craft of showmanship. After landing roles in telenovelas, he made a chance appearance on the local news reading off horoscopes. Phone calls slammed the station, and the producer of the broadcast hired him on the spot. Mucho Mucho Amor gives us a chronological breakdown of Mercado’s life and his rise to fame. It also reveals what ultimately ended his illustrious career in 2007. Supported by family and friends, we see a prophet of flamboyance and acceptance taken advantage of and left with no choice but to vanish.
“What happened to this legendary icon? Why did he vanish and where is he now?”
With unprecedented access to Mercado’s entire life, we get a human look at the larger than life individual. So much so that Costantini and Tabsch were savvy enough to compare Mercado’s taller tales against his family’s recollections in interviews. What is even more fascinating is that the filmmakers get former assistant Bill Bakula, on-screen to offer his two cents about his ultimately disastrous business relationship with Mercado.
As euphoric as the film is, and beautifully done, the doc might have benefited from speeding up the final act leading to the closing segment. A minor quibble, but as pacing goes, this stretch sagged just a bit. Otherwise, the film is a joy from beginning to end.
Why was Mercado so beloved? The answer is simple. It is that his message was one of hope, encouragement, and the belief that tomorrow would be better. His predictions were never dower or fatalistic. They were never negative. His direct and indirect message was one of hope and love. The film culminates in what could be considered Mercado’s redemption in a Miami exhibit highlighting his career. Flanked by adoring fans, young and old, we see the sparkle in his eyes. The hope returns.