30th Jun2021

‘In The Heights’ Review

by Alex Ginnelly

Stars: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, Noah Catala, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mateo Gomez, Marc Anthony | Written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, Lin-Manuel Miranda | Directed by Jon M. Chu

A magnificent musical, unlike anything that has been seen for a very long time. In The Heights conjures up everything that is purely American and purely Hollywood, and it’s an absolute joy to to be a member of its audience… 16 years since Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical first hit the stage it’s finally here on the big screen, fully formed and bursting with life. Now passed into the hands of director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) who helps bring the stage production to life with a perfect blend of cinema and stage.!

It’s a rare ability to be able to capture the wonder of the stage and balance that with the magic of the movies, however Jon M. Chu and his cast have allowed In The Heights to flourish with some dazzling set pieces of sunshine and happiness. The films opening number pulls you into the world of song and dance with such joy it’s incredibly hard to not have a smile on your face for the rest of the film. The balancing act is tricky, once you’ve set the stage it can be easy to get swept away in the song and dance of it, however the film manages to flow between the story and quiet scenes with grace allowing the musical moments to fully form and blossom into life instead of jumping up on you by surprise. And when the musical moments come they come in a ray of colours that hit you like a confetti gun, showcasing the talent of the cast and crew as everything is perfectly timed to the beat. The beat feels extra highlighted in the films wonderful editing, as every cut matches the beat of the music and never breaks rhythm. There were moments of editing that came across like an Edgar Wright directed film, allowing the editing to already have you tapping away before any of the music even starts.

The large musical numbers are filmed exceptionally by Jon M. Chu, who allows the camera to dance and flow through the musical numbers, the camera almost becoming part of the song and dance. It always seems like it knows exactly when to hold on those long shots and when to play around in others, as in one moments the camera dives into a pool and spins fantastically around the dancing ensemble. There are also times where characters will directly look into the camera, allowing the moments to fee more like the stage and connecting us closer to the moments, the characters ,and the music. These characters are one of the films most powerful tools as they come on screen fully formed and waste no time in engaging our attention. Anthony Ramos plays Usnavi, a New York shop owner, who’s been saving and working hard towards his big dream of moving back to Dominican Republic. Ramos arrives on screen as a star for a new generation and will no doubt be in the spot light for years to come. It’s Ramos’ story but the ensemble cast all work wonders too as they tell this beautiful story of ambition, working hard, and having dreams, not matter how big or small they might be. It’s also the story of community, immigration, of belonging, and of being remembered.

I’ve heard some compare In The Heights to West Side Story. Both set in New York, both about the struggles of the Latin community in America, but one is set to the backdrop of hate and tension and the other is about love, friendship, and coming together. In The Heights lets us all believe in the person we call neighbours, in small communities, in families and in friends. It lets us know that the smallest acts of kindness can effect so many around us, it’s a film that inspires and brings joy to all those who watch it. The last true touchstone in the genre mat have come many years ago, but when looking back in years to come this may well be the next touchstone in a wonderful genre that shows it still has so much to give.

***** 5/5

In The Heights is in cinemas now.

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