My favorite genre is the movie musical; my least favorite, the musical-theater-kid movie. Both Spielberg’s Story and last year’s other corny pretender, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, have arrived as quaint, todos-juntos representatives of the latter brand. Bright, high-pitched, and would-be weird, they come from a time when we weren’t shaken by a global pandemic that wiped out millions of the bottom and made billions for the top. Miranda had the audacity to state in a promotional podcast for In the Heights that he wanted to “transcend” (“progress beyond”) West Side Story by not making “yet another gangster movie.” Good for him.
If, as Manny Farber and Patricia Patterson wrote, the Godfather movies are uppercase filmmaking, the movie synonym for those Gothic friezes that one submissively admires before walking into the garish church that they adorn, then Hester Street is proudly lowercase.
This is not the languidity burdened by sameness and doom which we’ve grown accustomed to in the stuffy, unaired bedrooms of quar. Instead, The Portuguese Woman is a mesmerizing historic wormhole into a plein air future: the wind rushes in from a window, dresses ruffle and drag, the sun filters across a maid’s quarters to lift its bleakness.