Monday, July 6, 2020

Hamilton (2020)

Streaming Services: Disney+
Movie Name/Year: Hamilton (2020)
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Length: 160 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Production/Distribution: Walt Disney Pictures, 5000 Broadway Productions, RadicalMedia, Nevis Productions, Disney+, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Director: Thomas Kail
Writer: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ron Chernow
Actors: Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jonathan Groff, Chris Jackson, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, Phillipa Soo, Sydney James Harcourt, Thayne Jasperson, Jon Rua, Ephraim Sykes

Blurb from IMDb: The real life of one of America's foremost founding fathers and first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Captured live on Broadway from the Richard Rodgers Theater with the original Broadway cast.

Selina’s Point of View:
When Hamilton first came out, I had no interest. If you’ve read this blog for a while, then you know me. I just don’t go for historical dramas. I like musicals, but if they’re about something I’m not interested in, I don’t tend to care. I put off listening to the soundtrack for a long time, even with my husband nagging me to give it a shot.

I fell in love when I finally heard it. Historical dramas are still not my thing, but I’ll be damned if this one doesn’t speak to me on every level of my being. Alexander’s rough childhood, his unpolished demeanor in a situation where it’s deemed unacceptable, his ability to rise above his situation and press on… it all hits me so deeply that just listening to the soundtrack was practically a religious experience.

Needless to say, I watched it the second it came out on Disney + (and several times since). It’s long, but I don’t feel the time as it goes by.

As amazing as the soundtrack is, I couldn’t imagine I was missing anything. After all, it was already my favorite thing ever. But you do lose some of the experience when only listening to the soundtrack. The play opens up so many other aspects of the story. Facial expressions, the way an actor walks, the placement and motion of the characters… everything adds something more.

The performances are incredibly important.

The way Lin-Manuel Miranda (Do No Harm, Speech & Debate, His Dark Materials) expresses Hamilton’s quest for satisfaction, his desperation, and even his hopelessness, brings the character further to life. Leslie Odom Jr. (Harriet, Only, Central Park) portrays the ambivalence, the envy, and the delirious desires of Aaron Burr in a way that makes the audience understand why the man thought himself a hero right up until the end. Daveed Diggs (Ferdinand, Blindspotting, Snowpiercer).  goes from the rebellious French soldier Marquis de Lafayette, to the amusingly sarcastic and impossible-to-look-away-from Thomas Jefferson. Renée Elise Goldsberry (Altered Carbon, Waves, The Good Wife) is a firecracker and a role model as Angelica Schuyler while Phillipa Soo (Here and Now, The Code, Smash) is poised and brimming with resilience as Eliza Hamilton. Jonathan Groff (Frozen, Mindhunter, Looking) really puts forth the intensity of King George’s insanity, while Chris Jackson (Bull, Moana, Tracers) offers a much more logical and honest performance of George Washington – one that doesn’t hide the flaws of the person the character is based on. Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born, Monsters and Men, Patti Cake$) is hilarious and tragic as both John Laurens and Philip Hamilton. Finally, Okieriete Onaodowan (A Quite Place Part II, Station 19, The Super) is the embodiment of a call to action as Hercules Mulligan – whenever he sings you have no choice but to root for him. Is he sewing some pants? Is he a spy? Either way, you wind up demanding his success because he just goes so damn hard. Later on, he flips and offers a regal and politically minded performance as James Madison.

There is not a single actor that flubs any part of their performance. There is no ‘meh’ song on the soundtrack (and there usually is at least 1 in every musical I’ve ever seen). Even the ensemble is perfectly in sync and adds an ambience to the play.

When the song ‘Hurricane’ starts, the ensemble is seen lifting furniture in the air all around Hamilton and it gives a significant feeling of chaotic stillness to the scene. It FEELS like the eye of a hurricane. The way it’s done ensures that the audience knows something’s coming. It’s the perfect song to warn you that it’s time for your emotional preparations. It breathes out dread and is the epitome of that moment of calm before things go wrong.

I’ve seen a lot of movies. I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve never seen a story told that had such a clear moment that warned audiences to prep for disaster. No story hits this moment quite as well, in any medium. Listen to it, and when it comes on – prepare. Because devastation comes barreling after it. I’m always a wreck when Hamilton ends, even with preparations.

I don’t think it’s possible, in the current climate of our nation, to not talk about race here.

Hamilton is the best example of a creative project that proves – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that it doesn’t fucking matter what race the actor that plays a character is. Not only that, but it proves how much talent is out there. There wasn’t a single actor in this movie that pulled me out of the story, regardless of their race or who they were playing. Who cares that George Washington wasn’t black? Chris Jackson was THE pick to play him.  

I’m forced to ask why, then, is it harder for Black, Asian, Native American, and other non-white actors to find work in Hollywood? Facing the racial bias in one area is not enough, we have to face it everywhere. Head on. In the words of this films, we should “rather be divisive than indecisive.” I want to see Idris Elba as James Bond. I want to see films celebrating the culture of Native Americans in various situations – such as in Blood Quantum (2019). We need more of stuff like Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and Get Out (2017).

This play coming to Disney+ right now serves as a reminder that standing up to injustice is our legacy. It’s our duty. When the media stops writing about it and the hashtags are no longer trending, standing up to discrimination should still be your first instinct – right up until the rules change and privilege is no longer an issue because we’re all truly equal in the eyes of the system and each other.

Hamilton took the bar and threw it into outer space. It excelled at storytelling, casting, stage set, direction, and flipping discrimination on its head. Nothing can compare. It is the best creative project ever brought to life.

Cat’s Point of View:
The first thing that comes to mind when I begin to make an attempt at relating my experience of Hamilton to you is – it was more than worth the wait.

I can’t say that I’ve been this profoundly moved by a piece of musical theater since I watched a live performance of The Phantom of the Opera (1986-) at the Pantages Theater in Toronto my sophomore year of high school.

The music soared and the message was profound. I laughed, cried, and sang along in some places even though this was my first time hearing the majority of the music. I said it in this month’s Top 20, and I’ll say it again. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius. I am in awe of his compositions and his lyricism.

The first time I heard about Hamilton, and that it was a hip-hop musical about one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, I admit I was a bit skeptical. Then the next thing you knew, everyone was talking about it. It was the hottest Broadway ticket and there were tales of people going to extreme lengths to afford tickets to the constantly sold-out shows. It was clear that there was something to this phenomenon. I’m just weird and wanted to be able to see the show before I went after the music. I don’t like knowing what I’m missing and pining away for something I felt was unattainable – namely Broadway tickets and the accompanying trip to New York City. It’s a dream of mine, but just not one feasible for the moment.

You can imagine the internal cartwheels that happened with the announcement that Hamilton would be hitting Disney+.

The whole production was brilliantly orchestrated. The scene transitions were fluid, and the messages rang loud and clear. I loved all the little modern pop culture nuances that were laced into the production. They just help draw in the audience, pulling them even further into the action taking place on stage.

The stage is also a major sticking point here. I’m grateful that the powers that be chose to keep this film a recording of a live stage performance, rather than shooting a standard movie adaptation. That doesn’t always turn out as hoped, and there would be too much room for the messages to get muddied. There’s something to be said for the feeling of watching a live performance as a member of a stage audience. This film gives you the best seat in the house.

This music is powerful. We’re still trying to navigate today some of the same problems that the founders of our country faced hundreds of years ago. It is my hope that it works its way into school curriculums at some level. The PG-13 rating may make it hard for it to reach younger audiences, but Miranda and company did purposefully censor a couple of f-bombs out of the final product so that they could meet those rating criteria.

If I had to pick a favorite character other than Alexander Hamilton, I think it’d have to be Thomas Jefferson, as played by Daveed Diggs. I adored the flair he brought to that role. The whole cast was magnificent, however, and shone in their diversity as a good example of great things that can be done when we just all work together.

What we do with our time on this earth matters. What will each of our voices say?

I would recommend this musical to everyone in a heartbeat. Have you watched it yet?

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 99%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 94%
Metascore – 90/100
Metacritic User Score – 7.9/10
IMDB Score – 9.1/10
CinemaScore – None

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating5/5

Movie Trailer:

1 comment:

  1. I am am so excited to see this show.You both have made it impossible to miss. Thank you.