Born Jonathan French in Beverly Hills, California and orphaned at 3 months, this young boy was adopted by his Mexican nanny, Nena (Lupe Ontiveros) and step-father, E.J. (Danny Trejo) and raised to be a good, God-fearing Mexican with a love for ranchero music. At age 33, in his Jesus Year, and now known as Juan Francés, he is a gardener, valet-parker, short-order cook, nanny and janitor by day, but has been blessed by the Virgin of Guadalupe with the talent to sing like the angels. He takes his ranchero act from the small, half-empty soccer bars in East L.A., to a larger music festival audience where he is discovered and quickly swept into Mexican pop stardom. Caught in the whirlwind of fame, Juan s everyman appearance and musical style undergo a celebrity make-over. He changes his name to El Guero and his songs for the working-class are transformed into heartless Reggaeton. When the dark truth about Juan s history is revealed to him, he must look at himself and ask: Will he choose the Mexican man in his heart or the bald pink guy he sees in the mirror.
Movie review: 'El Superstar: The Unlikely Rise of Juan Frances' Los Angeles Times Staff Writer In her feature debut, director Amy French gives a unique twist to a classic tale of a naïve entertainer's rocketing stardom and crass exploitation. EL SUPERSTAR a loose-jointed mockumentary that is an amusing collaboration between French and her brother Spencer John French, draws upon their childhood in Beverly Hills, where their Mexican nanny had a large part in their upbringing. The siblings collaborated on the script and the songs, and Spencer stars in the title role. Even though he had never before acted, his casting was surely inevitable. His sister would have had a hard time finding a pale, chunky balding redhead who speaks perfect Spanish, sings beautifully and can convincingly see himself as Mexican. Orphaned at three months, Juan Frances has been raised in his family's spacious Beverly Hills home by his nanny (the always delightful Lupe Ontiveros); she and her gardener husband (Danny Trejo) have in fact adopted him. Obsessed with Jesus and the Virgin of Guadalupe, Juan works at odd jobs and hangs out with mariachis, singing ranchera songs that he has written. After he is spotted at an East L.A. club by an ambitious Latina entertainer (Maria Esquivel) and a sleazy, avaricious promoter (David Franco), Juan becomes an overnight star and is quickly subjected to a makeover and a barrage of publicity and promotion. Ever the innocent, he performs with Esquivel garish numbers that tastelessly mix sex and religion. EL SUPERSTAR certainly could be more focused and sharper edged. It may be a minor film, but it does offer infectious pleasures in the endearing French and in its off-the-wall humor. It is not really a satire but rather a gentle morality play in which Juan identifies with Jesus and at last has a chance to discover his true self. --Kevin Thomas - Los Angeles Times
Satire, when done well, can be one hell of a way to experience comedy. In El Súperstar: The Unlikely Rise of Juan Francés, moviegoers are treated to satire by some of the greatest names in comedy. Hollywood royalty Norman Lear (who brought the world The Jeffersons and All in the Family ) as well as comedian George Lopez ( Lopez Tonight ) combine their Midas touches in hopes of recreating their respective industry success. Juan Francés (Spencer John French) was born Jonathan French to a pair of Caucasian missionaries. After the untimely death of his birth parents, his family s housekeeper (Lupe Ontiveros) takes him into her heart and home. She raises him like a son. Juan grows up, fully immersed in Latin culture, and discovers at the tender age of 10 that he has the gift of song. From that moment on, he writes a number of ditties that chronicle the plight of the Mexican in Los Angeles. Juan s newfound family rallies around his talent and gives him the strength to pursue it on the national level (or in his case, in Echo Park for public access television). Juan s rise to fame comes when he meets and falls in love with a JLo wannabe singer-actress named Angelica (María Esquivel) who guides him from his modest day-laborer existence into a superstar life as the next Pitbull. Will Juan be able to hold onto his humble beginnings or is he forever lost in his massive celebrity? Despite its spectacular pedigree, El Súperstar gets a slow start finding its humorous voice. Early on, it feels as though director Amy French is scared to push the envelope. With satire, you either have to go full throttle or be steeped in so much irony that the jokes tell themselves. This does not happen in El Súperstar until the middle of the movie when Angelica is introduced. The gaudy and outrageous Puerto Rican tart is such a successful catalyst she nearly walks away with the movie. Fortunately, before this can happen, the script kicks into high gear, the other actors step up their games and the director leads everyone back into greatness. Grade: B --Ebony March - Campus Circle
EL SUPERSTAR: The UNLIKELY RISE OF JUAN FRANCES First-time director Amy French's musical mockumentary plays out like The Jerk meets Tommy set in East L.A. Juan Frances (Spencer John French, the filmmaker's brother and co-writer) is a pale, redheaded, mild-mannered gringo who's fully ingratiated himself in Mexican culture (no dual-identity problem here) thanks to his loving, adoptive mom, Nene (veteran Mexican-American actress Lupe Ontiveros), and stepdad E.J. (cult hero Danny Trejo). He speaks fluent Spanish, has visions of the Virgin of Guadelupe and plays soft ranchera music to the rest of his multicultural family, which include two money-hungry Persian brothers, Amir and Mahmood (Pej Vahdat and Sam Golzari), who run a cell phone kiosk at the Century City mall. He's even aligned himself with the downtrodden Latino immigrant who has to take on multiple jobs by working as a gardener, valet parking attendant and nanny. After Frances falls for a shady girlfriend and manager who help transform him from humble folk singer to crotch-grabbing reggaeton star, and then trick him into confronting his past, both the character and El Superstar lose their way. The movie, executive produced by Norman Lear and George Lopez, does a funnier job of teaching us about heredity vs. environment by deliberately piling on the stereotypes than by messing with evil music-biz cliches. (Siran Babayan) (Monica) --Siran Babayan - LA Weekly