If you see a redhead with a lobster tan, silver rimmed glasses and a sad array of dress shirts, that’s Mateo (aka Matthew Stoneman). In many ways Matthew looks like he should be one of the geeks plotting ways of love in Love and Engineering but he’s not, he’s a mariachi singer. America’s first white “gringo” mariachi singer.
An aspiring singer-songwriter who once envisioned himself following the path of Elton John, Mateo’s true musical love was discovered during a prison stint in the late ‘90s – some find God, Matthew found mariachi. The “gringo mariachi singer” got him a degree of media attention – he carries an old copy of the Los Angeles Times in his trunk, where and article about him called, “How a Gringo Found his Mariachi Groove,” was featured. But now middle-aged Matthew is trying to go legit, dropping the shtick and aiming high – he aspires to the heights of Billie Holiday.
In his LA life he is a loner, and a bit of a hoarder, and his closest relationships are with the stray cats he feeds each day. But LA is merely a pit stop. Matthew is constantly trying to get back to Cuba, get back to the music. Los Angeles is neither conducive to his creative flow or his lifestyle. But whether in LA or Havana, he lives on the fringes.
His love life, which primarily takes place in Havana, is as messy as his LA home and car. He is uncomfortably fixated on Cuban women, some prostitutes, others suspect, who he then carries on pseudo long-term relationships with. (It’s hard not to feel pity for the women at the receiving end of his affections, but we all gotta make a living). He also has a Cuban family he seems more invested in than his New Hampshire parents that he has long been estranged from.
As with the women who clearly humour him, the Cuban musicians Matthew pays to create his album of original Cuban songs, also seem to be just in it for the cash. On many levels he can buy his dreams in Cuba.
Despite his fair voice and love for the music, it is very hard to take him serious and the film doesn’t help the situation. Without gorgeous good looks, youth, or undeniable talent on his side, one wonders how far his career can really go. And in many ways he’s not the most likable guy either.
After over an hour of Matthew making music and creeping prostitutes, this “fantastically fun” saga leaves you wondering where the fun’s at. Chaka V.