Victor Nunez Returns With New Family Drama Spoken Word


Scarcely heard from since he helmed two mid-1990s indie hits (Ruby in Paradise, Ulee’s Gold), Victor Nunez’s new family drama plays like a musty holdover from that era. In Spoken Word, poetry slams still pose as the new punk rock, and the fact that men don’t talk enough about their feelings remains a very fresh discovery. Cruz Montoya (Kuno Becker) is a stud on the West Coast poetry scene, trading on street cred (“I want to get shot,” goes his signature refrain) and living with a foxy painter. But when he hears that his father, Senior (Rubén Blades), is dying, he returns to his sleepy New Mexico hometown to reckon with his Chicano roots and dance with personal demons. Like the promise of a gun, introducing a father’s vintage Impala in the first act guarantees that the son will crash it in the third. Though crudely constructed (the lighting and framing are strictly soap opera), unevenly acted (Becker is a bundle of distracting tics), and bluntly scripted, the film does have an honest integrity—at least whenever Blades is onscreen. He’s not a clichéd curmudgeon, but rather a quietly resigned melancholic who delivers lines like they’ve come to him in unpredictable waves, and in the film’s best scene, weeps as he saws through a sheath of Saltines. Spoken Word remains Cruz’s story, but there’s enough of Senior to salvage something out of all that pop psych and bad poetry.