Movie Review: In the Heights

Last Summer, while indoor activities like movie theaters were closed, Disney+ subscribers received a surprise treat when it was announced that they would air a version of the Broadway smash Hamilton with the original cast, that had been filmed and edited on stage with the original intent of screening it in cinemas, finally allowing the majority of Americans without easy access to Broadway a chance to see the show. It was a huge hit for the service, and one of the highlights of an otherwise trying year. Now, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical is here to help welcome us all back to the movies (and also on streaming for those who aren’t ready to head out just yet), this time in a production that is made to fully take advantage of a filmed presentation.

We follow Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), as he tells a group of 4 children about his life, and the life of those important to him, during one fateful Summer in Washington Heights, New York City. He owns a bodega which he works along with his cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), while saving to move back to his native Dominican Republic and pining after local salon worker Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who harbors her own dreams of leaving the neighborhood to work in fashion. Simultaneously, Nina returns for the Summer from her freshman year at Stanford, intending not to return after feeling isolated and out-of-place while there. Her father, Kevin (Jimmy Smits), who owns a local taxi company, is insistent that she return, but her old boyfriend Benny (Corey Hawkins), who works for her father, sees an opportunity to rekindle their relationship. All leading up to a multiday blackout that will leave the neighborhood’s residents sweltering in the Summer heat.

Let’s just get it right out of the way, that this is no Hamilton. That being said, it doesn’t really need to be. The songs are all catchy, with memorable melodies and clever lyrics, though a few lines feel a little corny. The entire cast does an admirable job singing and dancing through the streets, with Anthony Ramos especially excelling, which is good since his character has to effectively carry the entire show. Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia also gets a standout number towards the end, and is perhaps the most sweetly endearing character here. Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich AsiansStep Up 23) turns out to be the exact right choice to helm this project. He has a great eye for staging spectacular dance numbers, including more than one that offer up that certain special movie magic that ensure their appearance in highlight reels for years to come. It isn’t perfect however, the plot can feel aimless and there are a few moments in the middle where the nearly 2 1/2 hour run time starts to feel apparent, but it’s still a fun time at the movies, and exactly the ray of bright, vibrant sunshine we all need more of right now. ★★★★

Available on DVD.

Rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive references.

★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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