In the Heights- Movie Review

Like millions across the world, I too have been singing the words of Lin Manuel Miranda since I first heard Hamilton. His ability to entertain the masses while still presenting diverse and authentic American stories is truly captivating. But to truly appreciate the creative genius of that musical phenomenon you need to go back to 2008. Back to his first musical inspired by the American dream, In the Heights. Today, Lin Manual Miranda, the writer and creator of these two Broadway musicals, is synonymous with musical excellence. With the success and cultural impact of his work it was only a matter of time before there was a big screen adaption. Over the years directors would change hands and the anticipation for In the Heights continued to build. Now some thirteen years since its debut, In the Heights will finally make its way to the big screen on June 11th.

Set in the middle of a blazing hot summer in Washington Heights, we meet Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), the owner of the neighborhood’s small bodega. Things are changing for everyone in his neighborhood. Big companies are pushing out local storeowners and his friends are making big moves to finally pursue their dreams. It’s a vibrant celebration of life and culture within their intimate, supportive community. In the Heights is a really good time at the theater! The cast is likable, the music is fantastic, as well as the story itself. It’s inspiring to watch a neighborhood bond together to fight for their dreams, with passion and love for one another.

Anthony Ramos in In the Heights

Speaking of the music, it’s hard to walk away from a musical without a smile on your face. This is everything a musical should be to its audience. But it’s the really good ones that will leave you with the music stuck in your head for days afterward. You’ll find yourself in the latter after watching In the Heights. It will make you want to get up and dance, it’ll make you feel alive!

While I really enjoyed In the Heights, I do think it has its share of problems. The biggest is its runtime. Sitting at almost two and a half hours, this is roughly 15 minutes too long. There are many stories to tell and many songs to sing in this film, some of which did not make the final cut. Some storylines and cameos also have an unnecessary amount of time. Sadly, it also suffered from being overstuffed and caused the film to drag heavily in its final act. This is a common problem amongst musical adaptations and it was unfortunate to see it here.

Despite its small hiccups, the opening sets a good pace. Usnavi works as the narrator in our story and takes us around his neighborhood introducing us to all the other dreamers. They share their stories of sacrifice in an exciting opener showcasing Anthony Ramos’ vocal talents. To most moviegoers, Ramos is still relatively unknown as a leading man but he proves that he is more than capable. He is not the only unfamiliar face in this diverse cast. Leslie Grace and Melissa Barrera have just a handful of credits between the two of them and star as the two female leading roles. While some bigger names star in small supporting roles, Corey Hawkins’ performance made the biggest impression. Much like Ramos he has that same charm that seems effortless with the showmanship to back it up.

Melissa Barrera and Anthony Ramos in In the Heights

Another central figure to In the Heights is director . Normally, Chu is not at the top of my list for most exciting directors. However, I knew this would be a good fit. His career is riddled with films involving dance choreography and a large moving cast (including Crazy Rich Asians and the). Being that this is a musical, you can expect plenty of dancing. Chu has a lot of experience when it comes to shooting choreography and that is an artform in of itself. Chu satisfies both the dancer and non-dancer alike in how he captures dance on screen, which is impressive.

How a film is shot and from what angle is important, but especially in a musical. To Chu’s credit he stays away from going too big, a key factor to this story. On stage, In the Heights does not transition into several large set pieces and thankfully, neither does the film. The temptation to move around the city and expand the world beyond their street is there. By keeping it tight and moving around the same familiar settings it makes their neighborhood feel more like a community where people actually live.

The camera work for In the Heights along with the editing is smart and smooth, adding to the cleverness found in Miranda’s lyrics. Chu’s direction simply enhances what was already there in the framework of this musical. When two factors like that come together so well it creates an experience that is everything a musical should be.

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