Movie review of “Viva”: Ireland’s entry in the Oscar race for best foreign-language film was this Havana-set tale of a gentle hairdresser who dreams of becoming a drag performer. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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A Cuban coproduction involving Benicio Del Toro and the Irish Film Board, “Viva” is the Havana-set tale of a hairdresser who dreams of becoming a drag performer in a Cuban nightclub. It was Ireland’s entry in the most recent Oscar race for best foreign-language film.

The script by Mark O’Halloran has more than a touch of blarney, particularly whenever the difficult central characters are given unlikely second chances. But the director, Paddy Breathnach, has a gift for capturing street life and staging dynamic musical numbers that bypass a lot of objections to storytelling shortcomings.

For much of the running time, the gentle young hero, Jesus (Héctor Medina), is saddled with a macho ex-con father, Angel (Jorge Perugorria), who beats his boy and mocks him — but doesn’t mind using him to buy cigarettes and to find menus that deliver more than beans-and-rice prison staples.

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Viva,’ with Héctor Medina, Jorge Perugorria, Luis Alberto Garcia. Directed by Paddy Breathnach, from a screenplay by Mark O’Halloran. 100 minutes. Rated R for language throughout, sexual content and brief graphic nudity. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Sundance Cinemas (21+).

The humiliations are so extreme that you keep waiting … and waiting … for the boy to revolt, especially when prostitution becomes all but inevitable. Angel, however, has a secret that prompts a few readjustments.

Whether you buy the change of heart (well, more than one change of heart) is another matter. Slick and raunchy when it might have been grindingly realistic, “Viva” is finally all heart.