In the Heights Review: A Superb Adaptation of the Hit Broadway Musical
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes bring their Broadway hit, In the heights, to the big screen with a resounding success. His heartfelt testimony to New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, diverse residents, and vibrant culture is an absolute joy to behold. The story follows a close-knit group of dreamers for several days on their beloved city block. They sing, dance and rap from the cellars of the corner stores to the streets full of fire hydrants. Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) brilliantly captures the magic of the musical without missing a beat or step.
In the heights It has four main characters who grew up together under the loving care of Grandmother Claudia (Olga Merediz), a kind woman who had no children, but who watched over the youth of the block. Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos) lost his parents at an early age. He owns the winery on the corner, but dreams of going back to his father’s ruined bar in the Dominican Republic. He has a crush on the beautiful Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), a struggling nail salon worker and fashion designer who is desperate to move downtown. Nina (Leslie Grace) was the smartest girl on the block. They accepted her at Stanford. Fulfilling the hopes of his immigrant father, Kevin (Jimmy Smits), the owner of a livery car service. Then we have Benny (Corey Hawkins), he works as a dispatcher for Kevin and has always had a crush on Nina.
Most of the plot unfolds over three scorching summer days that precede a city-wide blackout. Usnavi has finally saved enough to buy back his father’s beachfront Caribbean bar. Nina returns home after a horrible first year at Stanford. Where she faced constant discrimination as a poor Puerto Rican girl. Vanessa has the money to buy a studio apartment in the West Village, but cannot pass the credit and earnings check. Benny feels that Nina is hiding something. She does not know that her father has taken advantage of his business to pay for his expensive tuition. All worlds collide as intense heat and raw emotions lead to a series of life-changing events for the group.
In the heights is a stellar follow-up to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, who produces and has a small supporting role as a seller of pirogue (flavored shaved ice). The musical numbers are well executed with splendid and impressive choreography. They range from intimate apartment settings to multiple streets where the entire neighborhood participates. It helps to have Anthony Ramos, who also starred in the stage production, as a focal point. He has the dramatic ability and musical talent to anchor any type of scene. The movie never feels bloated because the story always returns to Usnavi’s perspective.
In the heights celebrates the cultural contributions of its immigrant community. Food, language, fashion, art, and dance all draw from the multi-ethnic soup of Washington Heights. I lived there for eight years. This is the first mainstream film to show the incredible diversity of the neighborhood in a purely positive way. Hollywood rarely portrays Manhattan above 96th Street. It’s a completely different ballgame than what you see on Friends Y Seinfeld reruns. In the heights it will open your eyes and heart to a different experience that is also uniquely American.
My only criticism for this movie is the length. It feels longer than the two hour and thirteen minute run time. The singing and dancing are great, but some scenes could have been cut off to help the rhythm. This is especially evident in a dragging final act. In the heights It is produced by 5000 Broadway Productions, Likely Story, and Scott Sanders Productions. It will be released simultaneously in theaters and HBO Max on June 10 on Warner Bros.
In the Heights, HBO Max, Streaming
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