In the Heights

In the Heights ★★★½

In having listened to the stage musical before without seeing it in person, it's always been difficult for me to picture the landscapes, characters and plot - it's a sizable ensemble with various subplots to keep track of that I just needed aided with visuals. Similar to Crazy Rich Asians, Jon Chu's direction applies a no-holds-barred explosion of vibrance, boldness, and passion to the screen. No matter how grand and yet realistic the musical sequences are, it's always grounded in reality with charming performances by the cast - especially Anthony Ramos (omg his freckles on a Dolby screen are chef's kiss), Gregory Diaz IV, Olga Merediz, and Corey Hawkins (upgrade from The Walking Dead!!! I don't care for the Oscars anymore but I'd love to Ramos and Merediz in the convo at least). Chu doesn't waste a frame showcasing the places and people, and the pride that the movie is infused with from the cinematography, production, and costume design. The rollercoaster of emotions throughout is a perfect film to see back in theaters with reactions to a lot of scenes after the past year+, especially the nods to Hamilton.

Even though I loved the experience of the adaptation and the latter itself, I still struggled at some points. The first act plants into the musical aspect almost from the get-go, so you have to strap in for the ride - which is fine. It's a great way to capture the absolute spirit of Usnavi's story that wholeheartedly pays off in the end. But, as the music and expositions are essentially one - most of it in Miranda's established rap-opera sound - it's tough to let the story breathe and let us (or maybe just me? lol) catch up with everything, especially the bigger dance numbers where there's more than the leads or smaller ensemble to take in. Similarly, there are songs and beats from the stage version that I missed and are oddly excluded here. Obviously, it's impossible to include 23 songs in a two hour movie, so a lot of tracks have to go. But there's just overall a few elements that struggle to catch up with each other - the characters' energy without some songs to slow things down as well as the story mapping out the characters' arcs and transitioning from one to the next. The film doesn't seem to find its rhythm between the storytelling and music until the second act or so.

As a huge musical and Lin Manuel-Miranda fan, I've been looking forward to this for a long time. Since I'm not Latina I can't speak to the representation or issues with casting (these are great reads Variety, The Wrap, The LA Times,Vulture, IndieWire ). I'd like to say that films and this genre shouldn't have to make up for lost time marred by stereotypes and inequality, but In The Heights is a perfect example of how much the genre needed more diversity because of how personal yet universal stories are. Though I do think the film has some technical issues, it also bursts from the screen highlighting issues like immigration, Latin American diaspora, and gentrification as well as a celebration of community, family, legacy, and the strife of making dreams come true. It's a rare feat that I hope non-musical fans, and non Hamilton fans, give a chance and enjoy.

Overall - 3 to 4 stars

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