The setting is unusual but the narrative far less so in “Viva,” a film that’s basically about a young man reconnecting with his long-absent father. The background is one of drag-queen clubs and gay prostitution, but that’s not exactly unfashionable nowadays. The really intriguing aspect is that while it’s an Irish production, it was made in Havana, and in Spanish. As it turns out, however, that peculiarity isn’t enough to prevent it from feeling overly familiar and more than a little pat.

Jesus (Hector Medina) is a young, fragile-looking man who ekes out a living as a hairdresser to the women in the dreary neighborhood where he has a small apartment. He makes some additional money not only by hustling—reluctantly—but by fashioning wigs for performers at a bar featuring men in drag lip-synching to recorded music, all under the watchful eye of imperious owner Mama (Luis Alberto Garcia). Jesus also watches the show entranced, and decides despite his nervousness to go on stage himself as a chanteuse called Viva. His initial efforts are bad-mouthed by club underling Cindy (Luis Manuel Alvarez), but Jesus—or Viva—gradually calms down and becomes a potential staple.

Trouble arises, however, when his father Angel (Jorge Perugorria), a boxer who abandoned the boy and his mother when Jesus was only three and has just gotten out of prison (supposedly jailed for killing a man), shows up at the club and creates a fracas during Viva’s act. (It’s later revealed that his appearance there wasn’t coincidental.) The disturbance causes Mama to bar Jesus from performing. Even more problematic is that Angel decamps at Jesus’ apartment and starts belligerently ordering his son around. Jesus’ reaction is a mixture of revulsion and neediness, and while on the one hand he finds his father’s presence oppressive, he nonetheless can’t free himself from the situation, even when Mama offers to put him up at his place.

Of course, father and son gradually learn to accept one another, and in the last act a predictable crisis brings them even closer. By the end Jesus, true to his generous spirit, comes to terms not only with the old man but with all those who have wronged him; this is one of those films in which no character is beyond the pale of forgiveness.

That’s all well and good, but in the final analysis it doesn’t make for a very potent drama. Medina and Perugorria both have presence, and they bring a degree of tension to their early scenes together; as Jesus and Angel find an emotional connection, however, the actors fall into more conventional beats, and by the end their relationship has taken on a movie-of-the-week quality that’s rather obvious in its appeal to the heartstrings.

Still, the ambiance of the club—and the strong turn by Garcia as the force behind it—give the picture a solid spine, and the musical numbers, both by the decked-out Jesus and by his sometimes catty colleagues, have genuine spark. (Oddly, the lyrics of the songs aren’t subtitled, though the dialogue is.) Of course, it’s also intriguing to see Havana not as a tourist bureau might present it but in all its gritty glory. (Angel describes it at one point as a beautiful slum.) The cinematography of Cathal Watters is important in capturing the city’s atmosphere so well.

Ultimately, though, “Viva” comes up short because it opts to go in a direction that undermines the edginess of the milieu it has so convincingly created. By aiming for the tear ducts it chooses a path that might provide easy emotional satisfaction, but by veering into melodrama it grows increasingly false.