Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony Award-winning star and composer of the hit Broadway musical In the Heights, makes an auspicious film debut in 200 Cartas, Bruno Irizarry’s slapdash but charming romantic comedy now receiving a limited theatrical release. Playing the starring role of Raul, a struggling Nuyorican comic book artist and hopeless romantic, Miranda delivers an engaging turn which should easily lead to future film roles.
Unlucky in love, Raul thinks he’s found the real thing in the form of Maria Sanchez (Mayra Matos Perez), a beautiful Puerto Rican woman he meets at a nightclub. Besides being entranced by her beauty, he’s also struck by the pendant she wears around her neck, which happens to look exactly like one he’s drawn in his graphic novels.
The encounter proves short-lived, however, as Maria is forced to leave unexpectedly, accidentally leaving her locket behind. Although he has no knowledge other than her name and that she lives in Puerto Rico, Raul impulsively decides to travel to the island, to which he’s never been, in pursuit of her. Accompanying him is his best friend Juan (Jaime Camil), an inveterate, if less than effective, womanizer who hits on every beautiful woman he meets.
Upon arrival, the pair discovers that there are no less than 200 women named Maria Sanchez living on the island. So Raul writes a heartfelt love letter to each and every one of them, determined to follow them up with personal visits.
Accompanying the men are two women they’ve hired as guides — physical laborer and budding artist Yolanda (Dayanara Torres) and her best friend Rebeca (Monica Steuer), the latter of whom previously had an uncomfortable encounter with Juan at the airport.
Wacky comic complications ensue, as the party encounters a variety of colorful characters in the course of their quixotic quest, with every Maria Sanchez they track down proving to be the wrong one. Along the way, romantic sparks fly between Raul and the beautiful Yolanda as he becomes increasingly doubtful about his chosen mission.
Featuring a gallery of scenic Puerto Rican locations, the bilingual film is fairly predictable in its formulaic romantic comedy machinations. Enlivening the proceedings are the frequent doses of colorful comic book-style graphics that illustrate Raul’s fanciful flights of imagination.
By the time 200 Cartas reaches its not-so-surprising conclusion, we’ve come to enjoy being in the characters’ company. As played by the talented Miranda, the self-effacing Raul fully engages our sympathies; supporting players Camil and Steuer deliver amusing comic turns; and the gorgeous Torres is so appealing as the self-possessed Yolanda that there’s little doubt as to who Raul will eventually wind up with.
Writer/director Irizarry relies a little too heavily on both cheap gags (one involving Miranda’s gastrointestinal distress in an ill-equipped bathroom is particularly unfortunate) and flashy effects like split-screens. But at its relaxed best, this is an enjoyable, lighthearted effort that should well please Hispanic audiences in particular.
Opens: Friday, June 14 (Vanguardia Films)
Director/screenwriter: Bruno Irizarry
Cast: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jaime Camil, Dayanara Torres, Monica Steuer, Mayra Matos Perez
Producer: Javier Enrique Perez
Executive producers: Roberto Alcazar, Bruni Irrizary, Shimmy McHugh, Gustavo Trucco
Director of photography: Raoul Germain
Editor: Pedro Javier Muniz
Not rated, 96 min.