The summer of 2020 will be remembered for many things, most of them sigh-inducing, but here’s an immediate highlight: This will be the summer that we all (assuming we felt like shelling out $6.99 a month for Disney+) got to watch “Hamilton” in our living rooms. And not just any “Hamilton” — this movie of the Broadway musical, directed by Thomas Kail and filmed in June 2016, captures the remarkable artistry of the original cast, led by the show’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda as founding father Alexander Hamilton.
I was lucky enough to see “Hamilton” on its Seattle tour a couple of years ago, and I remember being left dazzled and breathless by its tuneful torrent of words, its clever weaving of musical genres (rap, hip-hop, pop and traditional musical theater embrace each other here), its ever-moving ensemble, its elegant stagecraft, its haunting theme of “who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” Seeing it on the small screen obviously isn’t the same — you’re not in the room where it happens, to quote the show — but it’s as close as any of us are going to get these days.
And it’s glorious. Though much of the film is a regular performance of the show, with audience (a few numbers were re-filmed in closeup), it’s not a static straight-on filming. Kail used multiple cameras, getting us in and around and sometimes even behind the action, pulling in close for a view you’d never get even from the front row, letting us become part of the story. You can see the sweat on the actor’s brows, the tiny microphones nestled in their hair, the nuances of emotion that can’t be seen from the balcony — and you marvel at how this cast, in scenes they’ve payed hundreds of times (“Hamilton” had been running for more than a year by the time of filming) makes it all seem full of discovery.
Highlights, for me: Renee Elise Goldsberry’s Angelica performing “Helpless” with a voice seemingly made from fire; Daveed Diggs’ remarkable double feature as Lafayette and Jefferson; and Miranda himself, in a performance that this film shows to be both delicately intimate and larger than life. What an experience it must have been for him, to perform his own art every night on Broadway. What an experience it is for us, at a time when live theater is just a dream we remember, to be able to watch it now.
Elsewhere among this week’s new releases is a delicious clash-of-the-titans pairing: Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche team up for the first time, playing mother and daughter in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s sly drama “The Truth” (now streaming on various VOD platforms). This is the first non-Japanese film for Kore-eda, who’s made a series of masterfully lovely films about families (“Nobody Knows,” “Like Father, Like Son,” “Our Little Sister,” “Shoplifters”), and its premise is a promising one. Deneuve’s character, Fabienne, is a legendary French actress who’s just published a not-quite-honest memoir that she’s nonetheless titled “The Truth.” Her daughter Lumir (Binoche), a screenwriter visiting with her American husband (Ethan Hawke), knows what the truth is, and struggles to find connection with her difficult mother.
Those watching this movie to see Deneuve and Binoche turning it up to 11 will be disappointed: Kore-eda’s films are more about quiet realization than fireworks. But it’s a pleasure to watch the two of them taking steps toward each other, with Deneuve having fun playing up her grand-dame persona (Fabienne can roll her eyes like nobody’s business) and Binoche exuding her own brand of radiance. Kore-eda, as always, finds some sweet scenes with children (Lumir’s young daughter, who quickly learns how to manage her grandmama), and the film provides some wisdom on acting, memory and forgiveness. “I’m an actress. I won’t tell the naked truth,” says Fabienne, confronted about some obvious untruths in her memoir. “It’s far from interesting.”