In the Heights: Film Review

In the Heights

I love movie musicals and I loved the stage production of In the Heights very much so I went into this film adaptation with the highest of hopes and I’m sad to report that I wasn’t as dazzled by it as everybody else.

Based on the musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes, In the Heights tells the story of a close-knit community of predominantly Latinx people in the Washington Heights district of New York City. The film is centred around Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a bodega owner who dreams of returning home to the Dominican Republic and opening a bar on the beach, like his father, while we also follow his love interest Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who dreams of being a fashion designer, Nina (Leslie Grace), who returns home after dropping out of Stanford University, and Benny (Corey Hawkins), who works at the dispatch office for a car service and hopes to get back together with Nina.

There are a lot of reasons to praise In the Heights. Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu has delivered an ambitious, vibrant and entertaining musical celebration of life, heritage and community, filmed within the hustle and bustle of the neighbourhood itself. It is extremely loyal to the stage production – which is to be expected given that Hudes adapted the screenplay and Miranda is a producer and actor (he’s the Piragua guy) – it is full of life, has some laugh out loud moments, is a huge step forward for Latinx representation on film, and focuses on the immigrant experience and the struggles Latinx people face in America trying to achieve their dreams.

I’m a sucker for a musical and normally seeing all-singing and all-dancing sequences make me want to burst with sheer joy. Admittedly, this is a high expectation to have but I didn’t experience that feeling watching them in this. This should be very much my s**t, so why wasn’t I as blown away as everybody else seems to be? I can think of a couple of reasons – the choreography didn’t pop or jump off the screen like it should, a lot of the songs aren’t catchy earworms and some just singing numbers felt a bit dull.

Getting more specific, my standout musical number was 96,000, which is set at a pool. The song is excellent, it looked amazing and there were some great pockets of choreography but they were too short, I wanted a longer focus on choreography here, especially synchronised swimming, but Chu kept cutting away from the group shots to individual ones. I also enjoyed a sequence at Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega)’s salon, it was a lot of fun and there were some genius creative flourishes. Every shot of everybody dancing in the street would have been more epic if the shots were held for longer. Everyone dancing in unison is the best!

Elsewhere on the criticism, some of the Spanish is subtitled and some isn’t, which I thought was strange, I wasn’t too keen on the surreal elements – the giant rolls of fabric falling from the sky seemed cool because it worked with Vanessa’s song but I didn’t enjoy the dancing on the walls sequence, perhaps because the execution was off. I also thought the film itself was too long, there was a section near the end where the momentum dipped, but Chu brought it back for an amazing heartwarming finale – and make sure you stay for the post-credits scene.

I’m really glad Chu and Miranda defied studio pressure and opted against casting a big A-list star in this. It works so much better with a cast of relative unknowns. Ramos – who starred in Miranda’s Hamilton – is warm and charming as Usnavi and his rapping is excellent. Barrera and Grace have gorgeous singing voices, look stunning and bring such emotion to their characters and I hope this launches big acting careers for them. My other favourites were Gregory Diaz IV as Usnavi’s comical cousin Sonny; Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz and Dasha Polanco as the sassy larger-than-life hair stylists at the salon; and Olga Merediz as the caring Abuela Claudia (the role she originated in the Broadway show). On the flipside, Marc Anthony has essentially a cameo as Sonny’s dad and I didn’t buy him as this washed-up alcoholic at all.

This sounds as if I disliked In the Heights but I’m just being super critical as musicals are my thing. I am in the minority having negative thoughts about this movie – the vast majority love it and think it’s spectacular, and you may well too. That wasn’t my experience – it didn’t make me feel much at all. Regardless of that, I’m glad they delayed this musical because it very much deserves to be seen on the big screen.

In cinemas Friday 18th June

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June in film: My recommendations

In the Heights

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The cinemas are back open and there’s lots of exciting releases coming up this month!

So without further ado, here are my top recommendations for June (released in cinemas unless stated otherwise):

A Quiet Place Part II

Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds are back for more in this sequel to the amazing 2018 horror. This one continues right where that first film finishes off and follows the Abbott family as they try to find a new home. Expect more jumps and plenty of unsettling tension as they encounter the monsters, which hunt by sound. My review is already live, check it out here. Released: 3rd June.

The Father

This release is supremely delayed but you’ll finally be able to find out why Anthony Hopkins well and truly deserved his Best Actor Oscar win! His performance as a man suffering from dementia is absolutely devastating and if the final 10 minutes don’t reduce you to tears then you have a heart of stone! This film is clever and deliberately disorientating to put us in the shoes of somebody with dementia. Can’t recommend enough. Here’s my review. Released: 11th June.

In the Heights

I loved Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s stage musical so I’m very excited about the movie adaptation, directed by Crazy Rich Asians’ Jon M. Chu! This film tells the story of different characters living in the Washington Heights neighbourhood of New York City, and judging by the trailer, I’m going to love every second of it. Cannot wait to see all the singing and dancing on the big screen! Released: 18th June.

Luca

I always expect a very high standard from Pixar’s films and so I have high hopes for Luca, an animation based in 1950s Italy. It tells the story of best friends Luca and Alberto who are both hiding a secret – they’re sea monsters! It looks so good! Released on Disney+ (with no premium fee): 18th June.

F9

The ninth instalment in the Fast and Furious franchise looks set to be the most ridiculous one yet! But wouldn’t you be disappointed if they went for realism instead of defying the laws of physics?! Blockbusters are certainly back in business. Newcomer John Cena joins the franchise as Vin Diesel‘s onscreen brother and nemesis. Released: 24th June.

Supernova

Now for something a little different. This lovely drama stars Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as Sam and Tusker, a couple who go on a trip in an RV to visit their favourite spots and people before Tusker deteriorates further in his battle with dementia. Two dementia films in one month! I saw this at the London Film Festival and cried so I’d definitely recommend tissues for this one. Here’s my LFF review. Released: 25th June.

There are other honourable mentions coming up, including Dream Horse, In the Earth, Land, Shiva Baby, Nobody, and The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.

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moana

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