More than the direction and screenplay, the bulk of the praise for the overall look and polish of the staging deserves to be shared by cinematographer Alice Brooks, production designer Nelson Coates, and location scouts Kendall Waldman and Matthew H. Wiesner. This is how to open up a play for the screen. Director Jon Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) doesn’t simply position actors, he’s called upon to direct entire city blocks at a time. Taking a hint from La La Land, the decision to shoot on location was a wise one. No matter how enormously appealing (and inordinately attractive) the cast might be, the true star of the movie is Washington Heights. The barrage of songs seldom bunched together. The one number that’s destined to be talked about features a gravity-defying dance on the side of an apartment building. Alas, this wasn’t a case of constructing a moveable set so that Fred Astaire might physically tap-dance along the walls and ceiling. For a film that tries so hard to ground it’s fairy tale trappings in the real world, it was a shame to see this bit of forced computer-generated terpsichore, which sucked the illusion right out of it, but not for long. When it was over, I glanced at my phone and wondered where the 143 minutes went. I’ve seen it twice, both times on television. That’s not enough. This one cries out for the big screen. There’s no better time than now, nor better film than this, to mark your joyous return to the movies. (2021) — Scott Marks
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