[REVIEW] ‘Cyrano’: The Power of Poetry, Music and Romance

I have always loved the play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. I recall seeing it when I was a little girl at the Utah Shakespeare Festival and it made an impact on me then and still does to this day. There is something universal in its themes and story that remains just as poignant in 2021 as it was back in 1897.

Now we have a new version simply called Cyrano helmed by director Joe Wright and God bless him he’s turned it into a musical!! 2021 seems to be the year of the musical so it’s been a fun time for me. This production is based on a stage musical of teh same name by Erica Schmidt and she does the screenplay here. It has some flaws but it swept me away in the romance, heart and beautiful storytelling.

Cyrano' Review: Peter Dinklage Reinvents a Romantic Classic - Variety

Cyrano in this version is played by Peter Dinklage and instead of a large nose, as in the original play, he is obviously a little person. Dinklage does a great job inhabiting both the bravado and lack of confidence that exist simultaneously within the character. In many ways changing from nose to height makes the social stigmas feel more relatable because sadly more women would probably care more about the latter than former. It just makes for an interesting character to have the same man who kills a man in a duel on stage for all to see be the one who can’t speak one word of his love for Roxanne for fear of rejection.

First Images From Joe Wright's Romantic Musical "Cyrano" Released

Haley Bennett makes for a wonderful Roxanne with a beautiful singing voice and she has great chemistry with Dinklage. Kelvin Harrison Jr is fine as Christian but the part is admittedly on the bland side. The songs are all written by the band The National, which I was unfamiliar with before this movie, but they craft some standouts like “Someone to Say”

Some of the other songs are more hit and miss but most musical fans will enjoy them. The singing is all outstanding and score is beautiful. Joe Wright brings his elegant style along with DP Seamus McGarvey who worked with him for 2007’s Anna Karenina, which I also love!

All the costumes and production values are first rate in Cyrano which helps the viewer become immersed in the tragic tale of missed opportunities. If only Cyrano had been braver. If only Christian had confessed. If only Roxanne hadn’t been so blind. All those emotions are felt deeply by the screenplay and make Cyrano a special cinematic event!

Cyrano is also a terrific date night option. If has the swordsmanship for the guys and the romance for the ladies. It’s not getting the wide release until January but keep an eye out for it. You won’t want to miss it!

8 out of 10

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[REVIEW] West Side Story (2021) or Revivals Aren’t Just for Broadway Anymore!

I have a little podcast with my friend Conrado Falco called The Criterion Project where twice a month we talk about what is playing on The Criterion Channel (we actually talked about the original West Side Story here). As one of our regular topics each episode we pitch a remake of the film we are discussing. This can be very challenging as most of the films we are discussing are considered classics in one way or another.

The trickiest thing about a remake is how do you justify its existence? For example, we have projects like the 2019 remake of The Lion King which only addition was in the photo-realistic style that only detracted from the story rather than enhanced.

Now we have a new telling of West Side Story– an adaptation of the Broadway musical where the original film won multiple Oscars including Best Picture and 2 acting wins for Rita Moreno and George Chakris. How do you remake something so beloved?

Well, evidently the answer to that question is to assign the task to Steven Spielberg and hist team of professionals. I loved this new take on West Side Story and I think they took the right approach by treating it like a revival on Broadway. There are changes. Things are staged differently, songs are moved around and even sung by different characters but it still feels like an adaptation of the musical. Like I said, if I went to a revival of West Side Story on Broadway these are the kinds of changes and interpretations I’d expect. Still the same show but with a new flair.

West Side Story Review: Steven Spielberg's Musical Is Revelatory Riff | IndieWire

As a whole the production is more workman-like than the original without the auteur feel of the Jerome Robbins choreography and Oscar winning cinematography and art direction. However, there are 2 ways this version far surpasses the original:

First, the chemistry between stars Rachel Zegler (in a stunning debut performance) and Ansel Elgort far exceeds the original’s Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood. Beymer famously hated the movie and was embarrassed by his performance (which is a little harsh but there was room for improvement). Maybe part of it is the new couple read as teenagers much more than the original. Who knows? Chemistry is a weird ephemeral thing and here they have it. The whole cast has great chemistry.

Second, the singing is a big improvement over the original. Zegler was discovered on youtube because of her singing and her voice is absolutely stunning. In the original all the singing is dubbed and while I support that choice if the actor can’t perform the songs well enough I prefer casting singers and that’s what they did in the 2021 film. Everyone sings beautifully in this film and for a musical theater fan like myself that added a lot to the experience.

Some people have criticized Elgort’s performance (I am aware his personal life leaves something to be desired) but I don’t agree. I thought he had great screen presence and sold the part of Tony very well. I also love the sound of his tenor vocals.. Moreno also gives a strong performance as the drug store owner Valentina. Her character exists as a kind of bridge between the Sharks and the Jets and that was an effective change.

I also enjoyed Broadway stars Ariana DeBose as Anita and Mike Faist as Riff. Spielberg’s longtime DP Janusz Kaminski does a good job playing homage to the original film but adding new insight. I particularly liked how they staged the final brawl in a salt warehouse. The actors pitched against the giant piles of salt was striking and memorable.

As a theater fan I enjoy going to see revivals just as much as new musicals, sometimes more. That’s how you have to look at this version of West Side Story. It’s a fantastic revival by a cast and crew at the top of their game. I loved it and can’t wait to see it again!

#RIPStephenSondheim

8.5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Come From Away’ or Broadway at Its Most Optimistic

For those of us musical theater geeks one of the hardest aspects of the pandemic has been the closure of Broadway in New York City for over a year. Even if fans like myself weren’t planning a trip to NYC we still looked forward to the latest cast recordings and new shows coming from the big apple. Knowing it was shut down made me literally cry. It just seems wrong for such a light to be turned off.

Fortunately movies and television have filled the musical void left in our hearts with incredible films in 2021 like In the Heights and series like Schmigadoon. We also got the filmed stage musical of Hamilton last year which was a total joy. In the next few months I am highly anticipating the release of Dear Evan Hansen and West Side Story. In a weird irony 2021 is a great year to be a musical fan!

In the meantime Apple TV is treating us to a filmed musical on their platform: the Tony award nominee for Best Musical Come From Away. I was so excited to see this performance because I have long wanted to see the musical on Broadway but haven’t gotten the chance (much like with Hamilton. I wish more shows could be filmed like this). Fortunately I am glad to say this recording lived up to my expectations. Not only is Come From Away a great piece of musical theater but it is one of the most heart-warming films I’ve seen all year. It’s truly Broadway at it’s most optimistic.

Come From Away tells the true story of when 7000 people were forced to emergency land in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland after planes were grounded on 9/11. The show features a cast of 12 actors who play the various roles of both the townspeople and the passengers on the planes. They are all great switching from their characters seemlessly but my favorite is Jenn Colella as a pilot Beverley Bass.

Because most of the songs are group numbers there is not as much the director can do to make the show cinematic. It’s a filmed stage musical. If that’s not your thing than you won’t enjoy this but if you are open to the artform there’s lots to love. The show is so positive and hopeful without being cloying. It reminds you that when things get tough most humans respond with kindness and love. And in this day and age we need more of that- or at least I certainly do!

This is a kind of a musical where the songs flow together and there aren’t solo numbers you’d hear at a Broadway concert. In that sense you could say they are forgettable but they work very well within the show. My favorite song is probably ‘Me and the Sky’ which is sung by Colella.

If you are looking for something to boost your spirits and remind you of the good in the world Come From Away is the perfect watch. It comes to Apple Plus on September 10th and is under 2 hours (short for musical theater!) so it is definitely worth your time. Cheers to the good people of Gander who were there for strangers when they were displaced and cheers to the whole Broadway community who were left dark by COVID. We value and believe in you!

8 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘In the Heights’ or You’re Not Taking Away Their Shot

Most of you who know me well know I absolutely love musicals. Whether it is animated musicals from Disney and other studios, original films like Sing Street or The Greatest Showman or Broadway adaptations like Hairspray or My Fair Lady I am down with musicals!

In fact, this summer I am making a goal to see and support as many local musical and theater productions as I can. I have already seen 9 since I was cleared after my vaccination with more to come. You can read my theater reviews on my other blog here.

With this being my summer of musicals It is such kismet that 2021 is fixing to be the best year for musicals at the movies ever. In both live action and animated films we have practically a musical film opening (or going to streaming) every month! This includes filmed musicals like Diana and Come From Away to animated films like Vivo and Encanto! I can’t wait!

The first up in the live action department is In the Heights. This is based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tony award winning musical of the same name and tells the story of Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos) who dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic and run a bar there. Meanwhile he is grinding it out running a bodega in Washington Heights with an array of friends and family in the rapidly changing area.

Gentrification is coming and even the beloved hair salon is being forced to move. There is Nina back from Stanford. Abuela Claudia who Mothers and Grandmothers the entire street. Usnavi’s cousin Sonny helps him at the bodega but he has his own share of troubles. Usnavi also has a crush on Vanessa who can’t wait to get out of Washington Heights.

In the Heights is directed by Jon M Chu who is at his best in these spectacle musicals. He made the Step Up movies entertaining to watch despite their somewhat flimsy plots and he made the best rom-com in a long while with Crazy Rich Asians. (We won’t talk about his abysmal Jen and the Holograms adaptation. Yikes…). With him at the helm, it should be no surprise that the big bombastic (people are literally dancing on the side of buildings) dance and musical sequences are where In the Heights shines. They are so much fun!

There is also a nice heart to the film. I saw the show years ago and really enjoyed it and the team has done a great job translating the energy and sense of community of the stage musical into this feature film. The whole cast has an effortless chemistry (including Miranda as Piraguero, the piragua guy or shaved ice salesman).

They manage to touch on important issues facing areas like Washington Heights in effective ways and juggle a lot of characters without it seeming cluttered or flimsy. Watching In the Heights will leave you smiling but also reflective on what we can do better as a society to support communities especially with minority populations.

The only real flaw in the film is for the non-musical buffs the 143 minute runtime may be a bit wearing. They could have definitely cut down a few numbers and made things tighter- even for a musical fan like myself it ran a bit long.

Nevertheless, I loved In the Heights. It’s an energetic burst of song and passion at the movies. It promises to be the movie event of the summer!

8 out of 10

[REVIEW] Cats: It’s Cats Singing and Dancing

Adaptations of Broadway musicals are a tough nut to crack. Due to fears of box office losses typically the movies come many years after the initial hype of the shows. Then to make matters worse, film directors often seem to have  a difficult time translating the energy of a musical show into a film. It’s a really strange phenomenon and it makes me wonder if the best is movie to Broadway (Mean Girls, Heathers, Beetlejuice, etc) rather than musical to movie.

cats

The latest attempt is one of the longest running shows in the history of Broadway: the strange Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. In the musical, ALW takes an epic poem by T.S. Eliot and adds songs. The problem is the poem is not very cinematic. It’s all introductions of various cats all leading to the jellicle ball. While there, the ‘jellicle choice’ is made. So literally we spend time getting to know cat A and then cat B until the cat Old Deuteronomy  (Judi Dench) decides which cat deserves to ‘ascend to the heavens for a new life’.

Fortunately where the narrative in Cats isn’t the best, the singing and dancing is enjoyable. I actually got used to the unique visual style very quickly and found songs like ”Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’ to be catchy. I also liked ‘Mr Mistoffelees’ and ‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’.  They even have trained ballet dancers Francesca Hayward as Victoria and Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks.

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Of course. the highlight of Cats is ‘Memory’ sung by Jennifer Hudson. She is such a powerful singer, and I thought she knocked it out of the park.

I also appreciated with Cats seeing something different. Everything is to scale so the cats look like the size of a normal cat. I personally have never seen a movie like that so it was a neat experience at the theater.

Taylor Swift as Bombalurina in Cats, co-written and directed by Tom Hooper.

The downsides to Cats is because it has so little narrative the pacing suffers. Especially the middle is slow, and I got sleepy watching it. It almost seems like it would be better as a short or a series of youtube sing-alongs rather than a movie. There is just not enough meat on the bones for a feature film.

I was also not a fan of Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots or her song with mice and cockroaches (a step too far! I hate cockroaches!). James Corden as Bustopher Jones was also pretty annoying but I’m in general not a fan of his.

Sir Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre Cat is probably the strangest of the group with his method acting song.  Taylor Swift fans will probably be disappointed that her character Bombalurina takes a long time to show up and only has one song in the film and another in the closing credits.

I think people expecting something super bonkers will be a little disappointed in Cats. It’s unusual but not something like Pottersville where you are just completely baffled the entire time.

I wish the choice to make it a stop motion animated film had happened with Cats. That would have been amazing. Alas this version is fun enough for a musical theater junkie. The songs are well done and the dancing is impressive. All the actors are trying their hardest and the visual style is unique. It’s far from perfect but take your other Broadway fan friends and go watch something different with some catchy tunes. You’ll have a good time or at least my friend and I did!

5 out of 10

Smile Worthy Barely

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‘Wild Rose’ REVIEW

The last few years have been a lot of fun for those of us that love movie musicals. Whether they are musical biopics or traditional musicals there have been a lot of fun entries lately. I wasn’t a big fan of Bohemian Rhapsody because of its terrible script but others I have loved like Sing Street, Rocketman, Mary Poppins Returns, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, A Star is Born, The Greatest Showman and even Disney Channel’s Zombies! Fortunately, I have another indie musical darling to tell you about called Wild Rose that fans of musicals and just good storytelling will love.

Wild Rose tells the story of girl named Rose-Lynn Harlan played by Jessie Buckley. She is from Glasgow, Scotland but she dreams of going to Nashville and becoming a country music singer (not country/western as she corrects people). Unfortunately, she had 2 children before she was 18 and then got involved in some drug shenanigans which sent her to jail for a year. Meanwhile, her mother Marion, played by the incredible Julie Walters, is tired of holding down the fort for her daughter and worries her dreams are robbing her from living in the moment with her children.

film wild rose with Julie walters

Evidently Jessie Buckley is famous for being on an American Idol type show in Scotland, and I believe it, because she has an incredible voice. I hope the original songs get remembered come Oscar season because they certainly deserve to be. Sometimes her speaking voice is hard to understand with that thick Scottish accent but it’s all worth it when she sings.

The story in Wild Rose isn’t the most original but the characters are layered and interesting. At first I didn’t like Rose as she is very selfish, but her character’s journey worked on me, until I was rooting for her. They also don’t muddy her story with much of a romance, which I appreciated. It’s just a woman trying to decide between her children and her dreams and how much sacrifice is too much.

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Julie Walters deserves all the awards for her performance as Rose’s mother. I felt for her even more than Rose (it is kind of like Lady Bird in that regard). She is a mixture of worry, fear, love, hope, kindness and frustration. It’s easy to make parental characters in these films one-note, judgemental types, but that’s not the case here. There’s such humanity in Walters’ performance anyone should be able to connect with her and her struggles.

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Like I said, the only major weakness in Wild Rose is that sometimes the dialogue can be tough to understand. I will be grateful when I can watch it with subtitles at home and can pick up on a few scenes I might have missed! It also has some predictable moments but nothing that bothered me personally. It’s a real hidden gem of the year, which I hope you seek out.

Wild Rose earns its R rating for language and a little sexuality but it should be fine for mature teens.

If you love music and human stories check out Wild Rose!

8.5 out of 10

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‘Rocketman’ Review

Everyone who knows me knows I love a good musical/musician biopic. I was not a fan of last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody because of the terrible script, but I love Walk the Line, DreamGirls, A Star is Born 2018, Sing Street, Blinded by the Light, Love and Mercy and many more. A good musician piece uses the music and tropes of the genre to draw the viewer in and make for a satisfying heroes journey. However, for every film that gets the balance right there’s tons that get it wrong. After being burned by Bohemian Rhapsody I approached the biopic about Elton John called  Rocketman cautiously. Fortunately, I kind of loved it!

ROCKETMAN

What I loved so much about Rocketman is how fresh and new it felt. Sure it hits the traditional beats but the fantasy elements helped everything feel alive and the use of the music was so creatively done! There would be a basic moment and then it would cut away to a musical fantasy sequence put to Elton John’s songs. This was so much better than a dry boring version of his rock n’ roll story.

The casting is also phenomenal. Taron Egerton is perfect as Elton John and his singing voice is so good (any of us who enjoyed Sing already knew that). I also loved Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin (the real hero of the movie!) and the 2 little boys who play young Elton (or Reggie I should say) do a great job. Richard Madden is very dreamy as John Reid (his role is a bit one-note but I didn’t really care because the movie is so over-the-top it fit to have a big bad hunky villain).

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The concert scenes were great and heightened by the incredible costumes by Julian Day and the energy/singing of Taron Egerton’s takes on Elton John’s fantastic songs. It was like Across the Universe but way better.

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Going into it I heard a lot of talk of it being a strong R rating and maybe I’ve been desensitized, but I have to disagree. Everything seemed totally conventional on that level to other biopics (alcoholism, drug use, a little profanity). Honestly unless a gay relationship/intimate scene depicted makes something R, which it shouldn’t, it seemed no more offensive than the PG-13 Bohemian Rhapsody.

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Finally, I loved the message of Rocketman. Like many a biopic, it’s about overcoming demons and the power of a creative genius at work; however, I also responded to the theme of dealing with loneliness and never giving up hope for a happy life. I especially loved the relationship between Bernie and Elton both as a creative force together and a friendship that never had an argument. It’s a beautiful, hopeful thing and will make you want to call your friends and thank them for being there for you.

The only flaws I have with Rocketman are more nitpicks. Bryce Dallas Howard didn’t quite work for me as his Mom and there were a couple characters I could have seen more of or gotten to know better.

Mostly I loved the creative vision of Rocketman. It was new and vibrant and had me grinning from ear to ear the entire time (even the grim sections were done with so much visual flair that I thoroughly enjoyed them). Go see it! It’s terrific!

smile worthy

9 out of 10

 

Blind Spot 32: Young Girls of Rochefort

I’m really glad I decided to make Jacques Demy’s classic The Young Girls of Rochefort  my August Blind Spot pick because it seems like such an interesting forebearer to films such as the recent Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and certainly the Oscar winning La La Land. In fact, after seeing it, I almost feel like Damien Chazelle took the happy moments from Rochefort and the sad moments from Umbrellas of Cherbourg and birthed a movie. They are so similar it is weird- even the score sounds the same.

Anyway, it’s easy to see why filmmakers like Chazelle would be inspired by Jacques Demy as both Umbrellas and Rochefort are incredible films. Rochefort like Mamma Mia 2 is an effervescent bubbly celebration of love, and I kind of loved it! (Obviously Mamma Mia 2 isn’t near as good but it does have a similar tone)

rochefort

The story isn’t very important to Rochefort but it follows twin sisters Delphine and Solange (Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac who are real life sisters) as they meet 2 carnies Etienne and Bill (George Chakiris and Grover Dale) and have a romantic adventure for the weekend.

We also learn about their mother Yvonne (Danielle Darrieux) who had a love that she foolishly let go as a young woman because she didn’t want to have his last name. She meets her former love Simon (Michel Piccoli) and his American colleague Andy (Gene Kelly) and has her own romantic adventure.

And that’s about it. The movie isn’t about the story. It’s about the continual singing, great choreography and an overall feeling of joy. Just look at the opening ballet number and how much fun it is (and how much La La Land used for its opening number!)

I love that this movie took real care to make the singing and dancing great. It does not feel half-baked at all.  They dubbed all the singers so that the singing would be good. They have very impressive dancing throughout and all the costumes and colors are so dazzling.

Look at this effervescent delightful scene with Gene Kelly. The tap dancing at the end is perfection

I probably still like Umbrellas of Cherboug a little better because it is so moving but The Young Girls of Rochefort has definitely taken a place in my heart. I can watch Cherboug when I want something deep and watch Rochefort when I want to smile. Well done Jacques Demy!!

The Young Girls of Rochefort is definitely smile worthy!

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La La Land Review

la-la-land-reviewsIn 2014 Damien Chazelle directed the music-oriented thriller Whiplash to great acclaim. I liked that movie but not nearly as much as most people I know. His latest music-oriented romance La La Land I like much better, but I still don’t know if I love it as much as most. If there ever was a case of being a bit disappointed a film is only in my top 10 of the year than this is it. It’s lovely, nostalgic and a joy to watch but not the perfect movie I was hoping for.

La La Land starts out as an homage to old school Hollywood musicals like Singing in the Rain and American in Paris. In probably my favorite sequence, we are introduced to the world of LA through a musical sequence on the crowded LA freeway.

la-la-land5Then we meet our lead characters- struggling jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone). They meet through a series of meet-cutes and it is their dreams of artistic greatness that unite them and help them to fall in love. That is the theme of the movie that there is something noble about those who dream and keep trying to succeed in LA.

However, I must warn you guys. If you are expecting a Broadway style musical you might be disappointed.  La La Land clearly shows Damien Chazelle’s jazz background. In fact, I would call it more a jazz/dance showcase than a musical. In the middle there really aren’t any songs aside from a song played by Sebastian’s band and him playing jazz at a piano. Ryan Gosling rarely sings in the movie and when he does it is more a gravely quiet voice not a Broadway style singing voice. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s just what it is.

la-la-land2There’s more dancing than singing than I expected, and I particularly enjoyed a tap dancing sequence called A Lovely Night. This captured the nostalgia that Chazelle was going for.

The side characters including John Legend aren’t developed very well but it doesn’t really matter because Gosling and Stone have terrific chemistry. You bought them as these struggling artists and hoped they could find a way to both achieve their dreams. la-la-land4The cinematography by Linus Sandgren is lovely and I completely understand why everyone in LA is going so nuts for it- their city never looked better. It would be a funny comparison to look at this and Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups back to back. You couldn’t get two more different interpretations of the movie industry and LA!

However, the true star of La La Land is the score by Justin Hurwitz. It is without a doubt the best of the year. Especially if you love jazz music you will love this score! Most of the songs didn’t stand out to me the way the songs in Sing Street or Moana did but the score was beautiful. la-la-land3La La Land at its core is a movie about work, which is a subject close to my heart and something I often contemplate. The dreams of Sebastian and Mia are ostensibly about their jobs. They aren’t dreaming about families or possessions. In fact, such things are literally hindrances from achieving their dreams. They want to do something great- meaning they want to have their dream jobs in the movies and music.

The interesting question the film fails to ask (and fails in Whiplash also) is does this dream when granted equal a happy life? You will have to see how their dreaming impacts their love in the movie but in my experience happiness is more ephemeral than can be contained in ANY job. Perhaps the movie argues that art/music is where the real happiness comes from but that feels a little hollow to me compared to the happiness of family and faith. Also, the movie dove a little bit into the sacrifices of dreams couples must make in order to be together, but I could have used even more of that.

Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent. La La Land is a beautiful movie about dreamers with a jazz showcase of songs and music. What’s not to like about that? It’s light, fluffy and very entertaining to watch. I did not connect with it as emotionally as Sing Street or Moana and none of the songs were as good as those movies songs but it still was a very enjoyable, engaging film.

I think a lot of people who don’t typically like musicals will like this film because the songs are fairly sparse and done in a jazzy way not a Broadway style. It’s something couples should see together- once on Netflix it will be the perfect cuddle movie.

I guess it might sound like I am being critical of it but I really did love the film. It was wistful, nostalgic and magical. However, I’m not sure how long it will stay with me and if it will be a favorite musical of mine the way I’m sure Sing Street and Moana will. But that’s just me. It’s still really good! You should all see it.

Overall Grade- B

My youtube review