In a season of mostly dark and dismal and just plain horrible movies, finally something positive and uplifting has shown up in the theaters. And as if Lin Manuel-Miranda knew that few people had gone to the movies at all before this one started today… there was an official welcome back to the theaters prequel by the cast before the official start to the movie. As for the movie itself it is long, as movies go these days— 2 hours and 23 minutes. And it is long on music and dance which is excellent, and the chief actors in the movie (including a small role by Lin himself, and a larger role by Jimmy Smits). The interweaving story lines can at points getting a little confusing, and sometimes one wished for a little more dialogue and a little less singing, but then this is a musical. The setting is important. In the 80s and 90s all sorts of Hispanics from Cuba, Puerto Rica (like Lin Manuel), the Dominican Republic, Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America lived in Washington Heights (so called because its next to the George Washington bridge).
It is frankly difficult to turn a good Broadway musical (which this has been) into a movie. This is no doubt why Hamilton has not been transmogrified in that way. But in this case the transformation actually works pretty well, not least because there is a lot more room and scenery and color and light to be had in a live setting in NY like that, compared to a small stage. If you are thinking this must be like West Side Story, actually that would be a yes and a no. No, it does not involve any gangs. Yes, it involves young couples and romance as well as many people trying to get by with very ordinary jobs. One also gets a sense of the difficulties for immigrants in that process who are on the one hand trying to assimilate and on the other hand trying not to lose their culture.
This is only the second movie I’ve seen this year (the first was the excellent Nomadland, also reviewed on this blog), and Ann and I really enjoyed this. It’s certainly the best thing going in the theaters now, and maybe the movie of the year, at least in the musical category.