PG Score: 8/10
In the Heights was released in theaters on 6/10/21
Full of life and radiating joy, In the Heights is a worthy adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway hit of the same name. Equipped with a powerful screenplay from Quiara Alegría Hudes (who also wrote the book for the original musical), Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) guides a bevy of incredibly gifted performers as they sing, dance, and act their hearts out. Stunning choreography, catchy numbers, and affecting deeper themes come together to form a spellbinding cinematic triumph.
Plot, Pacing, and Passion
The central story focuses on a humble New York bodega owner named Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) as he works hard to save every cent while dreaming of a better life. Taking place in the neighborhood of Washington Heights during a scorching-hot summer, he sets his sights on reviving his late father’s business in the Dominican Republic while being pulled in a different direction by those closest to him.
The scenes feel alive as Chu’s knack for storytelling mixes brilliantly with Miranda’s masterful compositions, and both are boosted by Hudes’ beautiful script. The plot is elevated by the music and vice versa, which makes for a wholly cohesive experience. There are minor instances of dragging present, but these infrequent occasions only slightly detract from the otherwise smooth pacing. The passion from both the filmmakers and actors can be heard and felt throughout the lengthy 143-minute runtime. As each note is sung and every monologue is delivered, it is abundantly clear that all those involved poured their entire being into this project. Moreover, the cultural significance pulsing within every fiber of In the Heights leaves an impact that is unlikely to fade anytime soon. Like the source material did for Broadway when it opened in 2008, the movie’s influence will certainly carry over to many Hollywood productions in the future.
The songs are clever, meaningful, and encourage the audience to sing along. In fact, it is quite difficult to resist the urge, regardless of the level of familiarity with the words. The lyrics are sensational, and Miranda (who also has a small role in the film) exhibits his unparalleled gift for penning assorted styles of music that seamlessly blend together. His latest work combines his trademark raps with salsa and other genres, and the music ranges considerably in tone. The variety helps with pacing and expands the target audience. Additionally, it strengthens the narrative at the heart of the film as the dialogue typically dictates the type of melody to follow. Despite the differences in the soundtrack, all the songs reach the standard characteristic of the legendary Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The lively tunes are accompanied by vibrant set designs and astounding dance movements. For many of the musical arrangements, the streets are packed with store owners, energetic children, and other bystanders as they all move in unison to the remarkable choreography. The magnitude of these spectacles is astonishing, and it genuinely feels like the viewer has a front row seat to the Broadway event during these portions. The smaller-scale numbers offer a great deal of character development for the faces of In the Heights. The viewer is granted a closer look at Usnavi’s reservations about leaving his tight-knit community, a more thorough exploration of the supporting characters, and a more intimate lens to the movie’s romantic elements. The duets are the primary source for the last item and provide some of the most poignant moments.
Anthony Ramos leads the immensely talented cast in a performance for the ages. The actor’s extensive skill set enables him to effectively execute dramatic exchanges along with showcasing his expertise in singing, rapping, and dancing. Ramos excels across the board and continues to add to his growing resume. He is backed by a star-studded roster that includes Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Jimmy Smits, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine fan favorite Stephanie Beatriz. Everyone shines in their respective role from both an acting and musical standpoint.
Fit for the Stage and the Screen
The film thrives on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s captivating music and Jon M. Chu’s ability to skillfully tackle heavier topics within the parameters of the story. Its bold, colorful, and heartwarming style is accentuated by the work of the extraordinary cast and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ superb screenplay. In the Heights is the perfect way to kick off the summer.