Shine could easily be called The Salsa Kings Dance with Pride and Love. Anthony Nardolillo devotes a sizable chunk of his first film to dance numbers, and there’s an infectious joy to these scenes, which reveal more about the characters than does the creaky melodrama that frames them. When Junior (Gilbert Saldivar) and Ralphi (Jorge Burgos) strut into the salsa club where their conga-playing father, Ramon Matas (David Zayas), leads the house band, they might look like a cliché of cocky New Yorkers. Then they take the dance floor.
Despite their matching clothes and mirrored moves, the brothers aren’t perfectly in sync, and their heart-pounding number is fueled by a friendly rivalry. They know how good they are but also understand that they’re better together. Ramon instilled in Junior and Ralphi how salsa is a distillation of their Puerto Rican heritage and their East Harlem neighborhood, a tradition that’s kept alive in their every step and continually renewed by their individual expression.
After an estrangement, Nardolillo uses another club scene to establish their new status. Junior remained in his beloved borough, and the way he moves with Griselle (Jadi Collado) shows he has found the perfect partner. Ralphi has returned to help his real estate development bosses in their gentrification efforts, and he’s woefully out of step with Josie (Kimberli Flores), whom he’s loved since childhood.
While Saldivar and Burgos are better dancers than actors, Collado and Flores are incredibly charismatic performers who bring every scene they’re in to life, but it’s Zayas who anchors Shine. His gravitas shot through with mischief sets the film’s tone, showing that serious-minded storytelling can still be fun.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on October 5, 2018 by GVN Releasing
First published in LA Weekly, 2018.