Review: ‘Satisfied’ (2024), starring Renée Elise Goldsberry

June 16, 2024

by Carla Hay

Renée Elise Goldsberry in “Satisfied” (Photo courtesy of Amblin Documentaries and Stick Figures Productions)


Directed by Chris Bolan and Melissa Haizlip

Culture Representation: The documentary film “Satisfied” features a racially diverse group of people (African American, Latin, white) who are connected in some way to Tony Award-winning actress/singer Renée Elise Goldsberry and who discuss her personal life and her career.

Culture Clash: Goldsberry, one of the stars of the original “Hamilton” Broadway cast, get candid about the conflicts and heartaches she’s experienced (including several pregnancy miscarriages) in trying to juggle her two biggest life dreams: being a mother and having a successful career as an entertainer.

Culture Audience: “Satisfied” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Goldsberry, the musical “Hamilton” and documentaries about mothers striving for a healthy work/life balance.

A mid-2010s photo of Brielle Johnson, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Alexis Johnson and Benjamin Johnson in “Satisfied” (Photo courtesy of Amblin Documentaries and Stick Figures Productions)

“Satisfied” is a beautiful and inspirational documentary about how family love can be found in many places with various people. Renée Elise Goldsberry generously opens up about how her pregnancy issues affected her life. Most of the documentary consists of personal videos that actress/singer Goldsberry filmed herself from 2005 to 2023. There are also exclusive interviews in the documentary with some of her family members and colleagues. “Satisfied” had its world premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival.

Directed by Chris Bolan and Melissa Haizlip, “Satisfied” offers an intimate look at what it’s been like for Goldsberry to handle a high-profile and busy career in entertainment while privately going through heart-wrenching personal struggles. She says in a voiceover near the beginning of the movie: “I had two dreams when I was little: to be a mother and to have a career as a singer and actress.” In some circumstances, she felt she had to choose between one of these two dreams or “lose everything.” She adds, “Here are some of my battles, lost and won.”

Goldsberry was born on January 2, 1971, in San Jose, California, and was raised in Houston and Detroit. Her father Ronald Goldsberry (a former automotive executive) and her mother Betty Sanders (who was an industrial psychologist) are seen in various parts of the documentary, but they don’t give formal sit-down interviews for the movie. The documentary has a cinéma vérité approach, rather than a traditional biography format. Although there’s a brief scene of a family reunion in Houston, Renée’s three brothers are not shown speaking in the documentary.

“Satisfied” jumps around a bit in the timeline, but what emerges is a portrait of Renée as a very driven and talented performer who has always strived to achieve a healthy balance between her work life and her personal life. She found success as a fairly well-known supporting actress on television (with roles in “Ally McBeal,” “One Life to Live” and “The Good Wife”) and on Broadway (including “Rent” and “The Color Purple”), but her biggest breakthrough came as an original cast member of the Broadway smash musical “Hamilton.”

In “Hamilton” (which is based on the life of historical figure Alexander Hamilton and Ron Chernow’s 2004 non-fiction book “Hamilton”), Renée had the role of Angelica Schuyler, the eldest of three wealthy socialite sisters. Angelica’s sister Eliza (played by Phillipa Soo) was married to ambitious politician Alexander Hamilton (played by “Hamilton” musical creator Lin-Manuel Miranda), but Angelica was in love with him too. Youngest sister Peggy Schuyler (played by Jasmine Cephas Jones) is also affected by this love triangle. For her role in “Hamilton,” Renée won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, as well as many other prizes, including a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

A great deal of “Satisfied” (which is named after Angelica Schuyler’s signature song in “Hamilton”) shows Renée’s “Hamilton” journey. Her post-“Hamilton” career is barely mentioned at the end of the documentary. “Satisfied” is the first feature-length documentary to have this treasure trove of behind-the-scenes “Hamilton” footage from a member of the show’s original cast.

As many “Hamilton” fans already know, Renée originally turned down many invitations to be part of the “Hamilton” workshop in 2014, but she was convinced to do the workshop after hearing “Satisfied,” which was her audition song for the show. The documentary includes videojournal footage and other behind-the-scenes footage of her entire “Hamilton” journey, including how she only had about two hours to learn the lyrics to “Satisfied” before her audition. There was no guarantee that doing the workshop would get her the role of Angelica Schuyler, but she did get the role, and the rest is history.

“Hamilton’s” off-Broadway stint was from January to May 2015. “Hamilton” then had an award-winning Broadway run that broke box-office records with the original Broadway cast, beginning when the musical opened on Broadway August 2015. Several of “Hamilton’s” original Broadway cast members voluntarily left the show in July 2016, to work on other projects. Renée’s voluntary exit from “Hamilton” was in September 2016.

Renée takes viewers though all the nerve-wracking stress and the emotion-swelling triumphs of “Hamilton,” from her perspective of being a part of this groundbreaking musical. The camaraderie in “Hamilton’s” original Broadway cast was real, and they all became like other family members to her, she says. “Hamilton” musical creator Miranda and “Hamilton” co-star Ariana DeBose are interviewed for the documentary and say the expected complimentary things too.

What many people might not know is that in the years that Renée’s career was on the rise, she had several pregnancy miscarriages. By the time Goldsberry was cast in “Hamilton,” she had six miscarriages. When she was in rehearsals for the Broadway opening of “Hamilton,” she had become pregnant again but also lost that pregnancy.

Through it all, her loving and supportive husband Alexis Johnson (an attorney) was by her side. In the documentary, Renée says of their courtship that she met him in church (he didn’t know she was an entertainer at the time) “and within a week, I wanted to elope.” She explains it’s not easy to find an understanding spouse who’s willing to not only be married to someone with a lot of job insecurity but also be willing to be in the background while a famous partner is in the spotlight.

The couple, who got married in 2002, were fortunately able to fulfill their dream of being parents. Their biological son Benjamin Johnson was born in 2009. In 2014, the couple adopted their daughter Brielle Johnson from Ethiopia, when she was a 1-year-old. Benjamin and Brielle are in the documentary’s home video footage and are absolutely adorable—not in a contrived way, where you can tell adults are coaching them on how to be “cute.” The charm of this documentary is that everything looks natural and unrehearsed. This family has genuine love for each other—and it shows in this personal footage.

Renée gives a lot of credit to Alexis for being able to take care of their children during the times that she has to work. There are several scenes in the documentary (especially in the footage during her “Hamilton” responsibilities) where Renée expresses guilt for not being there for her children when she wanted to be, such as in the evenings before the children went to sleep for the night. But at the same time, Renée says she doesn’t regret being in “Hamilton” because of the many ways it benefited her and her family.

Alexis comes across as the ideal husband, but they do not pretend to have a perfect marriage. He briefly admits that the couple has arguments, but he doesn’t go into details in the documentary. Alexis comments on what it’s like for him to be being a famous entertainer’s spouse who often has the responsibility of being the primary child caregiver: “There’s no resentment. We’re trying to have a household where everyone thrives.” Renée acknlowledges that she is privileged to have the support of a loving family.

One of the documentary’s more poignant sections is when Renée goes to Houston while she’s on vacation. In addition to being part a family reunion, Renée takes time to visit her drama teacher from high school: Dr. Charles Geroux, who is shown in his home with wife Brigid Geroux. Long before “Hamilton” broke racial barriers in casting, Charles Geroux cast Renée as in the lead role of Nellie Forbush in their school’s production of “South Pacific.”

There’s a brief archival clip of Renée performing in this production, and she appears to be the only person of color on the stage. Charles Geroux says wasn’t thinking of color when he cast Renée in the role. He says cast her because she had “everything” and was the best person for the role. Everyone in the room gets teary-eyed when he tells Renée: “Keep going. And I love you.” (Charles Geroux passed away in 2023. The documentary’s end credits include a tribute to him.)

Many people only see the glitz and glamour of celebrity lives. “Satisfied” is undoubtedly carefully curated, but it’s also a poignant document of the personal challenges that celebrities can go through behind the scenes. People who are looking for scandals and misdeeds won’t find that type of tabloid fodder in this documentary. “Satisfied” is simply one person’s story that affirms a basic truth that positive family love is much more important than being rich and famous.

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