James’s review published on Letterboxd:
I almost don't want to write a review for this because there's so much to say and everyone is already saying it for me. But here's a list of reactions.
I spent most of the time crying. The dance numbers were dizzying spectacle, which were often fun, but occasionally frustrating (my hottest take is Pacienca y Fe, my favorite song in the show, would have benefitted from a simpler staging). More annoyingly, they didn't seem to have much continuity between them. The "magical" visual flourishes, too, were simultaneously enjoyable and distracting. The editing was a mess (especially the opening number).
The elimination of That One Moment That Makes The Whole Audience Gasp is criminal. The elimination of Benny's story arc, too, is criminal--the one major Black character is left with basically nothing. On that note, although it's not quite my lane, the lack of Afro-Latinx people and sea of light-skinned faces was not lost on me, and all the criticisms I've been reading around colorism are valid.
All of the actors were good, except Vanessa and Nina, who were kinda boring, but I think that must also have to do something with the material and their direction. Daphne Rubin-Vega, Olga Merediz, and Anthony Ramos (who can get it) are the standouts.
I saw it with two friends who were not familiar with the source material (one of them only knew it would be a musical, and didn't expect to cry so much), and it was neat that we were all in agreement on even the finer points of the movie in our conversation afterward. We all enjoyed it, and we all were sobbing by the end, but then in retrospect we were frustrated by the disjointed storytelling (to be fair, I think the form is simply more suited to the stage: but that excuse can only go so far!), the lack of agency (and rap) allotted to the female characters, and the utter corniness of some of that dialogue (we spent a good couple hours mocking the line "just let me listen to the sound of my block," whenever we heard a motorcycle drive by, or a cicada scream).
But also? This is an EVENT movie, the likes of which I hadn't seen in two years. That in itself was glorious. And it was so refreshing to be with an audience that was totally engaged--we all gasped, laughed, and cried on cue. Films that tends to elicit those reactions with such pointedness tend not to be my favorites (okay, Lord of the Rings notwithstanding), but also, it's so damn satisfying to experience it once in a while. Bonding with strangers is fun!
I saw this in IMAX, and if you have the opportunity, I think you should, too. It's frustrating, it’s messy, it's corny, but it's also a glorious, moving, life-affirming spectacle.
(And yes, there's a post-credits scene, and it's worth it.)