One of the few good surprises of the year has been the announcement that Disney+ was releasing the film version of Hamilton in July of this year, instead of October 2021, as was planned. For the minimal cost of one month of the streaming service, we all can see the smash Broadway musical from the comfort of our own couches. If you have not done so yet, seriously, why not?
Just in case you don’t know, Hamilton is a hip-hop musical written by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by Ron Chernow’s doorstop of a biography of Alexander Hamilton, the founding father and first Secretary of the Treasury. Emphasizing Hamilton’s outsider status due to his parentage and youth in Jamaica, the musical tells of his rise and fall in early American politics, as well as his love story with his wife, Eliza (Phillipa Soo). The narrative is framed by his feud with frenemy Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.), who killed him in a duel. If you don’t know, now you know.
I have been a fan of Hamilton since I first heard the cast recording and I was lucky enough to see the production in Denver. I had my qualms about a film of the musical, because so often they pale in comparison to the stage show, or make cheesy decisions to pander to a movie theater audience. I was relieved when I saw that the movie Hamilton is the Broadway production, filmed over the course of three days in June 2016. By filming the original cast perform the stage show, the production has preserved the acting, set design, and costuming choices that were part of what made the show such a hit in the first place. Although the film does not have the same energy as being at a live performance, it is pretty darn close.
Hamilton is not the kind of show that you can watch just once. The lyrics and the staging are so rich and nuanced that a great deal can fly right past you the first time. I also recommend reading the book about the show for all the information it contains about the production. Whereas the incredible writing carries over to the movie, it also becomes clear just who on the cast really has the best singing chops. As Angelica Schuyler, Renée Elise Goldsberry delivers a vocal performance astonishingly similar to the cast album, Lin-Manuel Miranda makes it clear that his singing is not his best talent.
The show is inspiring and patriotic as it retells the story of the founding of our country using a cast comprised almost entirely of people of color. Those details make our current political moment a rich and complicated time for the movie’s release. The show’s joyous and cathartic tone also makes our current moment a particularly welcome time for it to arrive. I highly recommend several screenings.
John Lewis: Good Trouble, which you can rent from Cinema Center to help support the local theater, tells the story of the Civil Rights activist and longtime congressman, flashing back and forth between the present and stories of his youth during the March on Washington, Freedom Rides, Bloody Sunday, and more. Although Good Trouble involves politics and features some familiar politicians, I think this movie is important beyond partisanship. The documentarians and John Lewis himself do a good job of telling his story in a way that movingly connects the struggle for the vote during the Civil Rights Movement to ongoing work to protect voting rights today. Lewis himself has a fun sense of humor and a touching sense of duty. Whenever the tone gets a little too reverent of the work he has done, however, the filmmakers show an interview with his two sisters in order to bring him down a peg. The effect is quite humorous and endearing. I think the film makes an effort not to engage in too much hero-worship by acknowledging a controversial moment in Lewis’s career, but overall it is an inspiring take on a longtime civil servant.