“Siempre, Luis” spoiler-review: Tracing the life of Luis Miranda

Mo Dow, A&E Reporter

An older man lies in a hospital bed, his eyes slowly flickering open as a doctor’s blue gloved hands hover over his chest. This is the opening scene to the new HBO documentary “Siempre, Luis” which tells the story of playwright, composer and actor Lin Manuel Miranda’s father, Luis Miranda. For those who don’t Lin Manuel Miranda rose to prominence after the meteoric rise of his musical Hamilton, which he both starred in, wrote and composed the music for.

The movie starts off running, with little context and a lot of immersion. It skips between time periods and works hard to paint a complete portrait of a man who’s lived a truly remarkable life, moving from Puerto Rico to New York at a young age and becoming a prominent player in the political area of the time.

Although this movie was created in large part due to Lin Manuel Miranda’s meteoric rise to fame, sparked by the hit musical “Hamilton”, and he does play a significant role in the film, this is a movie about Luis — it’s his story, not his son’s. It’s a difficult line to walk, but the movie does it well, and it never lets you forget who the focus should be on: “Siempre, Luis” always Luis. 

Illustration by Elie Flanagan.

Before I get to the meat of this review, I should disclaim: this is not a spoiler-free review. 

“Siempre, Luis” may be the story of a man’s life, but as with any documentary, certain things are stressed at the expense of others. The movie highlights one part of Luis’ life with particular intention: his political career. 

Throughout the course of his life, Luis worked with many prominent political figures, including managing the campaign of long-shot senate candidate Chuck Schumer, who now serves as the Senate Minority Leader. This is only one of Luis’s various political accomplishments that the film touches upon, and is shown to be one of many victories in Luis’ career, both for himself and for all Latinos living in New York City. 

However, this isn’t as clear-cut a story as the movie wishes to portray it, and the film suffers from this lack of nuance. Luis’ first political job after graduating from college was under the then-Mayor of New York Edward Koch. In the film, his hiring is portrayed as a grand victory for immigrant rights; Luis transforms his job from a token position into being one of Koch’s most trusted advisors. However, Koch’s real legacy is very controversial due to his positions on policing. These positions have been heavily criticized for disproportionately affecting people of color. 

The movie never makes any mention of Koch’s reputation, nor, in fact, does it address any of his policies at all. This trend continues as the film progresses: more and more prominent political figures are mentioned, and Luis is glorified for working to get them elected, but their policy positions and real impacts are never addressed. The whole matter seems a little too tidy, and the movie works hard to try and plaster over the grit of political reality and turn it into something much more inspirational than it really is.

Despite the movie’s serious lack of political reflexivity, or of real commentary, it does find stronger footing in one place: Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico back in 2017. When the film shifts its focus to the effects of this disaster, the tone completely changes. Suddenly the story seems much rawer, and much more real. The focus shifts from how Luis made a name for himself in New York, to how he worked to help Puerto Rico when the people there were in desperate need of aid. 

The on-screen emotions are much more tangible and believable, and the film loses much of the historical revisionism that marked discussions of Luis’ early political career. What happened to the people of Puerto Rico is harsh, recent and the effects are still ongoing the movie doesn’t pull any punches, although it still focuses mostly on the Miranda family and their responses. 

“Siempre, Luis” is far from a perfect movie; but its failures are matched by its heart; above all else, it is a love letter to a man who has worked his whole life to make a difference. Sometimes this takes away from the realities of his life but love for Luis Miranda pervades throughout the fabric of the film so materially that it seems near enough to touch. 

The movie doesn’t try and claim that Luis is perfect, (though a lot of where it falters stems from an inability to look at his life with a critical lens) it just tries to show how much he is beloved. All in all, it’s a worthwhile watch in a time where all of us could use a little love in our lives. More than that, it’s worth watching with a critical eye, not accepting everything the movie tries to say. Most of all, it is important to watch this movie with the right expectations it will consistently be introduced as a film about Lin Manuel Miranda’s father, but if you watch it hoping that’s what it will be, you will end up disappointed. It’s a film about Luis Miranda, and whatever you think of his story, it’s one worth telling, and an interesting one to watch.

“Siempre, Luis” comes out on Tuesday, Oct. 6 on HBO.