The framework of the generic family sitcom has been around for seventy years. After almost a century of watching these programs, there has to be a way to both color within the lines and not create an exact copy of what has been on the air previously.
George Lopez was on the air from 2002-2007. The show stars the eponymous comedian George Lopez as a husband, father, and employee of a Los Angeles manufacturing plant. Married to Angie (Constance Marie) for many years, they are doing the always classic and never easy work/life balance dance. George’s mother Benny (Belita Moreno) is a constant presence in their home, which is problematic due to her self-centered nature.
I’ve watched a couple of episodes and it’s your basic paint-by-numbers family sitcom. The only difference is that the main characters are all Latinx and that their son has autism. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important that the America we see on the streets is reflected on both the big and small screens. There was obviously enough of an audience to keep it on the schedule for five seasons. But I found this show to be nothing special.
Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) is a young lady from a small village in Colombia. Everyone in her family was born with a unique gift. The only exception is Mirabel, which is often pointed out in a less than sensitive manner. When she starts to sense that her home will be destroyed, no one believes her. This may be connected to her Uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo). Bruno is the black sheep of her family tree. He is not spoken of and has not been seen for years.
Mirabel appears to be the only one who can save the day. But first, she will have to get past her grandmother, Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero).
I loved this movie. It is funny, enchanting, and charming. In making Mirabel ordinary in both physical appearance and abilities, she has universal appeal. The fact that she has glasses, short curly hair, and is not a size 2, is more than overdue. With a Latinx cast and the creative fingerprint of Lin-Manuel Miranda, it is a joy to watch.
The Montagues and Capulets have been replaced by two warring gangs of young men, fighting to retain unofficial control of what is left of their neck of the woods. Riff (Mike Faist) is the leader of the Jets, who are all White. Bernardo (David Alvarez) is the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. Though he has a career as a boxer, he is equally concerned with protecting his family and his fellow Puerto Ricans.
Their fates are changed when Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) meet at a dance. Maria is Bernardo’s younger sister. Newly arrived in NYC, she is both idealistic and stubborn. Without their parents, the only maternal influence she has is Anita (Ariana DeBose), Bernardo’s girlfriend. Anita is spicy, whip-smart, and is eager to take advantage of the opportunities that lay before her. Tony is Riff’s best friend and his former second in command. After spending a year in prison, he wants more from life than being a hoodlum.
As the two fall in love and envision a life together, their relationship is tested by the violence around them. If they could get those closest to them to find a way to get along, Maria and Tony could have a chance at a future. But as lovely as that idea is, it will take a miracle to make it happen.
The deliberate decision of seeking out and hiring performers who are from Latin America or of Latin American descent adds a feeling of authenticity that is missing from the original film. Even Rita Moreno, who is also Puerto Rican (Anita in the 1961 movie and Valentina, the co-owner of the pharmacy and widow of the late pharmacist in this adaptation) had her skin darkened.
If there is one performer who stands out, it is Rachel Zegler. In her first on-screen role ever, she shines as Maria. Her voice is absolutely stunning. Most young actors start out as background players or in small roles, slowly building up their resume. To come out of the gate in the lead role in a major movie and blow everyone away shows that she has nothing but a bright future ahead of her.
This narrative is as timely and powerful as it was sixty years ago. The problems have not changed, they just have different names and different faces. If nothing else, it reminds the audience that we have two choices. We can continue to figuratively shoot ourselves in the literal foot, or find a way to work tother.
Though it clocks in at a little over two hours, it is worth sitting through.