‘Lupe’ HBO Max Review: Stream It Or Skip It?
hbo has a habit of making sure that some of the best movies that fly under the radar get a chance to really shine. the latest addition to the platform is lupe, a moving independent drama that tells the story of a cuban immigrant who arrives in new york city in search of her sister and grapples with her identity as a transgender woman in the process. we’re here to tell you if she’s worthy of a place in her queue.
lupe: pass it on or skip it?
the gist: rafael’s (rafael albarran) days in new york are almost the same: he trains in a boxing gym, makes jokes with the people he trains with and looks for his sister, Isabel . Through flashbacks, we learn that Rafael’s older sister, Isabel (Lucerys Medina), was responsible for raising him in their home in Cuba, and he believes that she was taken to the states and sold as a prostitute against her will. her. During his search for Isabel, he finds an old friend, Elsa (Christine Rosario), who moves in with him and gives him some much-needed information about what really happened to her and Isabel.
while rafael is dedicated to looking for isabel, it turns out that the “she” that rafael is looking for is actually inside; Rafael is a transgender woman. With the help of friend Lana (Celia Harrison, a trans woman who also played a vital role in the film’s production behind the scenes), Rafael, who later takes the name Lupe, begins to embrace a future in which he can be herself completely. .
what movies will it remind you of?: lupe has that lovely, intimate, independent feel to it, with lots of handheld camera work and close-ups. it’s hard to compare it to any particular movie, but the vibes certainly feel in line with the festival darlings we’re used to seeing on the rounds.
Acting Worth Watching: This movie really belongs to Rafael Albarran, and they do some really beautiful things with the central role. there’s such a genuine and vivid quality to his performance. combined with the intimate camera work and often improvised dialogue, it’s easy to forget you’re looking at an actor when you watch albarran – they’re that good. there’s so much going on in those eyes. I hope this platform will open some serious doors for you.
memorable dialogue: “she gave me a name. a name that she now she walked me away from.” There are so many beautiful exchanges in Lupe, but I was really moved by the monologue that concludes the film, one in which Lupe takes charge of her new life and leaves her haunting past behind.
Sex and Skin: There is a fair amount of nudity in Lupe, a film that is very much about sex work, sexuality, and gender identity.
our opinion: lupe is a special film. Anchored by a performance from newcomer Rafael Albarran, the film doesn’t need elaborate sequences or sets to work; the magic is in the details and in the small moments. filmmakers andre phillips and charles vuolo have achieved something truly memorable with lupe. With the help of Celia Harrison, who served as the film’s thematic consultant, they avoid telling another LGBTQ+ story through a limited lens; it’s a rich and authentic story, one that supposedly even helped Albarran on his journey to identify as non-binary. the movie on its own is wonderful, but when viewed with its real-life impact in mind, it feels even more meaningful.
despite its extremely short running time (lupe clocks in at around 77 minutes), there are plenty of cute and moving scenes and plenty of important messages. Lupe’s most powerful moments come when the filmmakers give us a glimpse into Rafael’s inner life; My breath caught in my throat when a small smile crossed albarran’s face as they applied their lips, or when elsa and rafael shared a silent gaze on the fire escape. for a movie with so few bells and whistles or intensely climactic scenes, it still packs a huge emotional punch. Aided by Albarran’s impressive performance and a simple script, Lupe presents us with the kind of nuanced character study that tugs at the heart and raises important questions by the time she’s done. Lupe is a little wonder of a movie, a work of art that goes back to basics and is based on the tried and true method of simply telling a good story. in the process, something truly beautiful is created.
our call: pass it on. lupe is a heavy movie, but with a powerful story to tell, and rafael albarran’s performance makes it worth it.
jade budowski is a freelance writer with a knack for screwing up jokes and harboring celebrity crushes on daddy. follow her on twitter: @jadebudowski.
where to stream lupe