What happens when you bring the creator of the worldwide phenomenon “Hamilton” and the director of “Crazy Rich Asians” together? Well, then you get “In The Heights”, the latest movie by director Jon M. Chu and based on the same-named musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s the most recent musical making its way to the big screen, and what an adaptation it is! It turned out to be the most swinging, emotional, uplifting, vivid and cleverly written movie you will see this summer.
Welcome to Washington Heights, a vibrant and energetic part of NYC. Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who runs a bodega in Washington Heights, takes you through the lively city. When he’s not selling coffee, lottery tickets and food with his cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), he daydreams about the love of his life Vanessa (Melissa Barrera).
She works in a beauty salon and wants to be a fashion designer. He also regularly meets up with his best friend Benny (Corey Hawkins), who’s a taxi dispatcher and in love with Nina (Leslie Grace). Nina’s the only one who has ever left Washington Heights because of her studies at Stanford. Sadly, the way she was being treated there lays bare the problems and prejudices people of colour face everywhere in New York.
However, In the Heights, she feels safe because of her big support group. Everyone knows each other, and they all have a passion for love, life, family, dance and fun. Yet, due to the changing economical and political landscapes, Washington Heights’ energy is decreasing. How will this impact the sueñito (‘little dream’) of the people living there?
During his sophomore year at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Miranda came up with “In the Heights”, which he soon turned into a Broadway musical. After being nominated for thirteen Tony Awards and winning four of those, it was time for Miranda to turn his global success into an equally popular movie. While he only has a cameo in this film, he laid his first musical baby into the hands of an extremely talented and creative cast and crew.
What makes this movie such a thrill to watch is Ramos (“Hamilton”, “Honest Thief”), who excels as the leading Usnavi. It probably wasn’t easy to take on the role that Miranda portrayed himself during the musical, but he just makes Usnavi his own. He delivers a charismatic, welcoming and lovely performance that has you in its grip through the entire movie.
Most of his scenes are either with Barrera (“Dos Veces Tú”, “Sacudete Las Penas”), Grace or Hawkins (“BlacKkKlansman”, “Straight Outta Compton”) and if you put that talent in front of him, you get fireworks as beautiful as the one you see in the film. Each actor puts so much personality and love into the portrayal of the character to make sure that the different character traits are coming to life stunningly.
Even the more supporting roles are incredibly spectacular and will leave you with a big smile on your face. Diaz IV (“Vampires vs. the Bronx”, “The Hungry”) is what you can expect from an on-screen wingman. Not only as his character who wants to bring Usnavi and Vanessa together but also as the actor giving a remarkable and fun supporting performance.
However, the supporting standout is Olga Merediz (“Fluff”, “Fair Market Value”), who portrays Abuela Claudia. She makes you laugh, cry, and feel during the more emotional and subtle scenes, but when she gets her musical number towards the end, she shows you what a tremendous vocal range she has.
Of course, a musical wouldn’t be anything without the great written songs, and that’s precisely what you get in “In the Heights”. Just as the film itself, the upbeat songs focus on topics such as the American Dream, immigrations, the different classes in society, representation and celebrating your heritage, community and family. If you add the typical Miranda hip-hop style to that, then you know you will hear and see songs that will leave you breathless.
This euphoric feeling is heightened even more due to the massive and energetic dance routines, the huge and colourful carnivals and the bright and glamourous cinematography by Alice Brooks (“Emma”, “Alex & Me”)
Yes, there are a few bumps in “In The Heights”, as it’s still an adaptation after all. Some songs and storylines work better on-stage than on-screen, which sometimes results in slightly incomplete scenes. However, there’s just a handful of those scenes, so don’t worry about them too much.
What you should worry about, though, is whether or not you will be able to get a ticket for this movie. “In The Heights” is a dazzling, uplifting, important and powerful film and is full of love, life, music and colours. We’re pretty sure it will mean the return of sold-out cinema screenings all over the world!