Frederick Wiseman's latest is in line with his best, a study of the public life of a place and its people stamped by a rare inquisitive patience. It's a work of community portraiture that slowly develops into collective drama: Here, beneath the clatter of the elevated 7 train, are the diverse communities of Queens' Jackson Heights neighborhood, in meetings and classes, prepping for citizenship tests, fighting large-scale development projects, becoming cabdrivers. (A taxi-training teacher offers this memorable mnemonic: "Easy to remember: T for tunnel, T for toll.") Wiseman lets scenes run long, giving his speakers their say: A man in real estate explains to concerned citizens, exhaustively, why landlords can't resist selling to nonlocal corporate buyers; a retired woman at a community center suggests that her companion, who suffers from loneliness, might pay friends to come talk to her.
The running time, 190 minutes, is generous rather than taxing: It's notable for its breadth, not its length. For every expansive scene of neighbors speaking truths to each other, in many languages, there's a glimpse of more Jackson Heights that Wiseman and director of photography John Davey don't have the time to treat in full: nightclubs, straight and gay; services in mosques and churches; employees of local businesses trimming up puppies (cute!) or chucking chickens into industrial pluckers (my eyes!). As always, the technique is matter-of-fact, and his camera feels welcomed into these lives rather than in any way invasive. An invaluable document, the film will stand as a reminder that, as late as 2015, there were New York neighborhoods where real people lived.