Review: In 'The Boy from Medellín,' J. Balvin finds his voice

Documentary follows the Colombian reggaeton superstar as he prepares for the biggest concert of his life

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

J. Balvin is an entertainer, not a politician.

But it's not easy to just be an entertainer these days, which is the struggle at the heart of "The Boy from Medellín," the enlightening, intimate documentary that focuses on the lead up to Balvin's 2019 homecoming concert in front of more than 40,000 fans at Medellín's soccer stadium, Estadio Atanasio Girardot.  

J. Balvin in "The Boy From Medellín."

Academy award nominated director Matthew Heineman ("Cartel Land") films the reggaeton superstar — the world's sixth most-streamed artist, according to Spotify — for the week leading up to the show, the capper of his visionary and highly acclaimed Arcoiris Tour. For Balvin, born José Álvaro Osorio Balvín, the show is a celebration of his long professional journey, which took him from struggling artist who once painted homes in Miami to scrape by to the pride of Colombia. He wants to focus on putting on the best show possible for his fans. 

But there are problems in his country. All week leading up to the show, protesters fill the streets, angered over issues such as income equality, police brutality and President Iván Duque Márquez's handling of Colombia's peace accords. Balvin doesn't want to get involved: He's not educated on the subjects at hand, and he chooses to keep politics out of his music and focus on positivity. But as he remains silent on the issues, criticism grows, and the boy from Medellín is accused of turning his back on his country and his people.  

"The Boy From Medellín" is a timely look at modern fame, social media and social justice, and what it is we want from our stars. It's also a deeply humanizing glimpse into Balvin, looking at both his rise and his struggles. It's not his job, of course, to fix Colombia's problems. But what's his responsibility on the international stage when the world sees him as a representative for his country? Pop stars used to be able to avoid such issues, but as seen here, those days are long gone. 

'The Boy from Medellín'


Not rated: language

Running time: 95 minutes

On Amazon Prime Video