The HBO documentary “Siempre, Luis” wants to be about a political lion of a father, but it ends up more enamored with his charmed son. The film, ostensibly profiling the consultant and Latino community activist Luis A. Miranda Jr., begins with a student protest. The camera zooms in on excitable students at the University of Puerto Rico boldly stepping onstage in the middle of a news conference.
Lin-Manuel, Luis’s son and the creator of the Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton,” sits back, his announcement that he’ll be bringing his show to Puerto Rico to raise money for the island’s recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria interrupted. As scenes of protesters carrying signs that read “Our lives are not your theater” show onscreen, Luis reminisces in voice-over about his own political life.
When the director John James focuses on Miranda’s political activism, fighting for the rights of Latino communities in New York in the 1980s and ’90s and working in the office of Mayor Ed Koch, he paints a lively portrait of a savvy consultant. It’s straightforward, concentrating on Miranda’s personality to broadly illustrate both his charisma and his passion for empowering Latino people on the margins.
But the film pivots early, shifting uneasily into a documentary more focused on Lin-Manuel’s meteoric rise and the quest to bring “Hamilton” to Puerto Rico.
Struggling to engage with Luis Miranda on his own terms, the film queasily documents Luis’s assistance in making his son’s work a success. The public relations consultant Ken Sunshine notes that he and Luis ran the “In the Heights” Tony Award campaign “like a political campaign.” When the film returns to the discord over “Hamilton” in Puerto Rico, James hints at a more compelling film that’s neither just bio-doc nor “Hamilton” press kit, but one about how politics and art are as combustible as flint and steel.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. Watch on HBO Max.