Netflix's 'Mucho Mucho Amor' Is a Heartwarming Doc About TV's Most Legendary Astrologer
Walter Mercado was a beloved Latino astrologer and TV personality, decked out in incredible jeweled capes, until he suddenly disappeared.
Compared to many of the documentary films and series currently trending on Netflix, including the creepy true-crime reboot Unsolved Mysteries and the unsettling Jeffery Epstein deep-dive Filthy Rich, Mucho Mucho Amor is a welcome reminder that the world isn't all doom and gloom. The tender, poignant study of the late Puerto Rican astrologer and television personality Walter Mercado, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year before premiering on Netflix last week, celebrates a larger message of hope, love, and connectivity. It's the cinematic equivalent of wrapping yourself in one of Mercado's bejeweled capes.
Opening with the striking image of the fluffy-haired Mercado twirling in front of the camera, arms outstretched like a sorcerer summoning energy from another world, Mucho Mucho Amor understands the visual potency of Mercado's personal style and the emotional appeal of his approach to the cosmic. Making ample use of archival clips from his television appearances, interviews with famous fans like Lin-Manuel Miranda, bits of colorful animation, and footage of modern-day Mercado in his late 80s, filmed before his death in November 2019, directors Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch don't attempt to reinvent the celebrity bio-doc. Instead, they use the form to pay tribute to Mercado's tricky, complicated legacy.
As Miranda explains early on, Mercado, who began his professional career as an actor before finding his calling as an astrologer, was a staple in millions of households across the world. Beyond his interviews on daytime talk shows like Sally Jessy Raphael and on radio shows like Howard Stern, where he was often treated like a New Age rock star, his horoscopes, delivered in his hypnotically melodic voice, provided a reliable source of inspiration, contemplation, and entertainment. "If you went to visit anyone, Walter Mercado was on," Miranda says. "And you would be quiet until you got to hear your sign."
And, at least according to the documentary, Mercado's flashy aesthetic sensibility wasn't just a costume he wore on television, something to be tossed aside when the cameras switched off. The hyper-focus on maintaining his image extended to his personal life, which gives the present-day interviews a droll touch as Mercado shows off his outfits and his personal artifacts. If there's a hint of fraudulence or hucksterism to the gaudy presentation, it's hidden with sly dedication and unwavering commitment. The capes and the hair are part of a larger project, one that Mercado describes as "interfaith religion," a practice defined by being "nice to people" and giving "the best of yourself every moment of your life."
Though the tone of Mucho Mucho Amor is largely laudatory, rarely pressing too hard on topics like Mercado's sexuality or his personal relationships, that doesn't mean the film is completely devoid of conflict or tension. During his pop cultural peak, when he was expanding in different radio markets, hawking a 1-900 number, and stopping by Regis and Kelly, Mercado worked with a manager, Bill Bakula, who had him sign a contract that permanently signed over the rights to his name and image. A legal struggle ensued, and in that section of the film the story devolves into a fairly standard Behind the Music-style back-and-forth about betrayal and deals-gone-bad, with Mercado's subsequent period of seclusion setting up a triumphant comeback.
Like Mercado's horoscopes, the rhythms of this type of documentary, particularly the way it weaves footage of the past with interviews in the present, are primarily comforting. Mercado's teachings are mostly straightforward, loaded up with quasi-spiritual self-help rhetoric, but the presentation is rich and varied, pushing up against ideas about gender norms and masculinity. As an interview subject, Mercado is funny and playful; he's also strikingly empathetic, acknowledging pain, sickness, and death. The documentary allows for his occasionally messy public life, one filled with great success and defeating failure, to be turned into a succinct, heartwarming narrative of personal strength. As fascination with astrology and other forms of mysticism thrives on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, Mercado has been reinvented and immortalized for a new generation. "He used to be a star," says Mercado, narrating in the third-person at the film's conclusion. "But, now, Walter is a constellation."
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