Review of 'In the Heights'

in_the_heights.jpg It is a hot summer in the Washington Heights area of New York City bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) dreams of taking over his father's bar in the Dominican Republic. There is a strong sense of community in this Latino area of the city. Spinster Abuela Claudia (Merediz) has put many of them under her wing including raising Usnavi. The shy Usnavi (named after what his mother saw painted on the side of a navy ship when arriving in the city) is attracted to salon lady Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) who dreams of a career in fashion. It is a summer of change as Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace), daughter of successful businessman Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), returns after a traumatic first year at Stanford University with reservations at returning in the fall while salon owner Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega) plans to move up town. When Usnavi learns he has sold a winning lottery ticket the neighbourhood all dream of what they would do with the money…

We are fans of the musical Hamilton so when we heard creator Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical “In the Heights” was being adapted for the big screen, we got very excited and when we saw the released first eight minutes we were ecstatic. The music is very much an upbeat version of the music we were familiar from in Hamilton, yes, again heavy on the rap style, leaving us having to frequently listen very carefully to the rapidly delivered lyrics, but it is so full of vitality and life. The musical element of this film is very much integrated into the story with the characters periodically breaking into song and huge dance numbers that frequently descend into the fantastic such as characters dancing on the side of an apartment building and huge rolls of fabric unfurling across the city. It has to be said this introduction of special effects feels jarring but it does add to the overall sense of fun and excitement - Simply put, it just looks, and feels great.

As far as plot there are not, I feel, any huge surprises here yet you get pulled into the lives of these characters and really feel for them as they strive to find their way with the hand they have been dealt. I have to admit that I was close to tears at several points. The characters feel incredibly real and, as such, you can really relate to their struggle. The actors not only have to act but also perform in some incredibly complex dance sequences and, of course, they have sing at the same time. It has to be mentioned that the big dance sequences are absolutely incredible, looking amazing and full of imagination including not only taking over the streets but the local swimming pool as well…

Be sure to stay for a post-sequence featuring the somewhat despondent piragua selling Piraguero (Lin-Manuel Miranda himself) battling for business with the local ice cream van finally getting his revenge…

Great fun and looks absolutely incredible. Sometimes a bit jarring with it's use of special effects but simply full of compassion and humanity.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2021-07-03

Directed by: Jon M. Chu

Studio: Warner Bros.

Year: 2021

Length: 143 minutes

Genre: Musical