J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Music + Film Brazil: Tim Maia

Often referred to as “the Godfather of Brazilian Soul” or something similar in spirit, Tim Maia could be thought of as the Barry White of MPB. Given his girth and habit of ingesting drugs and alcohol, he could also be called the John Belushi of MPB. Sadly, both men suffered like fates. Even if you know nothing about Maia you can probably predict his life story beat for beat, but somehow it is still enthralling to watch his rise and fall in Mauro Lima’s biopic Tim Maia (trailer here), which kicks off the Music + Film Brazil film series this Tuesday at Symphony Space.

Tião Maia grew up poor and chubby in Rio’s rough & tumble Tijuca district. He fell in with a group of aspiring musicians that would become a who’s who of Brazilian music. Erasmus Carlos and Roberto Carlos (no relation) maybe aren’t as well known outside of Brazil, but Jorge Ben was also in their band. Unfortunately, Maia had the talent but not the looks. When his so-called friends starting finding solo success, leaving him behind, Maia took advantage of an opportunity to travel to America.

Things didn’t exactly work out for Maia here, but it was his own fault as much as anyone’s (or so Lima and co-screenwriter Antonia Pellegrino give us ample reason to believe). Deported after serving a prison sentence, Maia returns to Rio with nothing to show for the last ten years. However, he manages to shrewdly parlay his friendships with the not particularly helpful Carloses into some high-profile gigs. When he finally releases his first single, he breaks big.

Suddenly, the smoldering hot Janaína will finally give him the time of day. Heck, she even marries him, because the party never stops when Maia is around—until the drugs and money finally start to run out.

So yeah, sounds familiar doesn’t it. Seriously, how many other music bios follow the exact same course. It’s like these crooners and pop idols magically forget every movie they have ever seen as soon as they chart a hit. Nevertheless, these are the facts of Maia’s life, or at least the broad strokes, so Mauro is stuck with them. That is why it is rather impressive how successfully he still manages to pull viewers into Maia’s life, especially those who come in cold. Granted, he definitely emphasizes some the more outrageous moments, like when Maia builds his country getaway party palace on the wrong side of the property line, but frankly we want to see that kind of Val Kilmer in The Doors lunacy.

Babu Santana is a scary dead ringer for the older, perilously out of shape Maia—think late Vegas Elvis carrying several extra tires around his waist. He is also a really convincing jerkweed, but fortunately Robson Nunes makes a compellingly earnest striver as the teen to twentysomething Maia, while Alinne Moraes earns credit for nicely covering Janaína’s arc, from the wild party girl to the emotionally and financially wronged wife.

It must be said, Maia had some pretty groovy hits, which might be the most important part. It is also nice to hear him (or rather Nunes in character) give his American hosts, the Cardoso family credit for taking him in, even though they were not expecting him and their connection was tenuous at best. Of course, you know how it is all going to end, but it is still an entertainingly gossipy ride. Lima doubles and triples down on the 1970s and 1980s period vibes, which doesn’t hurt either. It is certainly recommended for Maia fans, but anyone who digs soulful MPB will enjoy Tim Maia when it screens this Tuesday (4/4), launching the Music + Film Brazil film series at Symphony Space.

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