Friday 11 June 2021

In The Heights (Movie Review)

Disney+ had scored a huge hit last summer when Hamilton was added to its ever-growing library of family content. But now it seems that HBO Max is the one about to score a big summer hit, with today's simultaneous release of In The Heights. And unlike that other film, which was merely a high-quality recording of one of its earlier stage play performances, this one is a ground-up adaptation of yet another Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, lovingly made for the big screen.

Directed by Jon M. Chu of Step Up and Crazy Rich Asians fame, the film tells the interweaving stories of several people living in the titular Washington Heights in New York City. First there's Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a young man that runs the neighborhood bodega. Then there's his love interest, Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), an aspiring fashion designer. And then there's Nina (Leslie Grace), a young woman that recently came home from Standford University.

All three, like much of the cast, are of Dominican descent. And their ethnicity is not the only thing that connects them. The one thing they all have in common is their pursuit of a better life, a dream that often feels out of reach due to financial hardships. But as they all prepare for their community's forthcoming Fiesta ceremony, they'll soon come to learn the role a community plays in overcoming all sorts of obstacles.

In The Heights is a love letter to the larger-than-life cultures that color our respective neighborhoods. It is not only a celebration of Latin culture in particular, but also an examination of the challenges and experiences of Latinos living in the US. But rather than merely settle for shining a spotlight on those experiences, it goes one step ahead by humanizing their struggles. This is mainly achieved through fully fleshed-out characters that were instantly likable.

The musical numbers were also singalong worthy, and the choreography that accompanied them were just as memorable. All of which was captured through some stunning cinematography that almost demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible. There was this one performance by Lin-Manuel Miranda that felt tacked on though, and a few other moments during the film where it seems to lose some momentum. Also, the film did tend to run a little bit longer than I had anticipated, clocking in at almost two and a half hours, so keep that in mind and plan your own intermissions accordingly.

In The Heights seems almost tailor-made for the summer movie season. The movie boasts a number of memorable songs and performances, as well as a heartfelt story that was brought to life by an all-round stellar cast. Most importantly, it excels in much the same way Hamilton had done when it made the jump from stage to streaming. But whether you choose to see it in theaters or at home, the film is guaranteed to leave you walking away with a spring in your step.

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