In the Heights. 2021
Directed by Jon. M Chu
Starring Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Gregory Diaz IV, Dascha Polanco, Marc Anthony, Ariana Greenblatt, and Noah Catala.
The scent of a cafecito caliente hangs in the air just outside of the 181st Street subway stop. The likeable, magnetic bodega owner Usnavi saves every penny from his daily grind as he hopes, imagines and sings about a better life.
In the Heights explodes onto the big screen in all of its Coca-Cola advert glory just at a time when we need it most; crowds, connectivity, and an overt message of optimism feel the perfect antidote to the ills of the world. It also helps that it’s so easy to get swept away by Jon M. Chu’s Colgate smile adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2005 Tony Award Winning musical, even if your feet may tire from tapping throughout the exhausting runtime.
Aside from the pitch-perfect warbling, what hits you straight away is just what a stunning exercise in craftmanship and showmanship Chu has composed with In the Heights. Taking his Crazy Rich Asians success and elevating his directing to another level with some of the most inventive and tightly choreographed set-pieces, of this or any other genre.
There’s a swimming pool sing-song which is superbly executed, and an Inception-level side-of-a-building ballad which already feels iconic. However, it’s the smaller interludes which strike the most resonant chords, such as the charming animation accompanied exchange between the male leads as they freestyle walking down a street, or the salon sequence’s ‘Tell Me Something I Don’t Know’ number, which gives center stage to the impressive range of female voices emanating from 181st Street.
They’re not all bangers though. There are a number of songs which feel as though they could have been dumped on the deleted scenes section of the DVD in order to tighten up the movie. It’s understandable they’d want to put Lin-Manuel Miranda all over the marketing, but his DNA is already in the sound and personal story of In the Heights, so the minimal involvement of his character and his one forgettable song could have easily ended up on the cutting room floor and made this a little less like one of those ‘Special Edition of the Limited Edition’ playlists, where all of the bonus tracks are tacked on too. There are so many threads to this concept album that dropping a couple wouldn’t have diminished the effect.
Holding the notes and our attention are the uniformly excellent cast, whose instant chemistry and likeability ensure that the saccharine elements aren’t too smothering, and that you immediately root for their individual and collective battles, so much of which is infused with a message of authenticity and legacy, with Hispanic heritage representation integral to the characters motivations and In the Height‘s themes.
Corey Hawkins, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, and Olga Merediz are standouts amongst a stellar cast, but it’s Anthony Ramos who exudes star-quality and roots the film in the personal, ensuring that despite the moments of exuberant excess this remains a collection of intimate stories punctuated by set-piece songs that never threaten to suffocate the heart of the film.
It might take a while to adjust to the tempo, and there are as many fillers as there are killers, but buoyed by the wonderful cast and Chu’s accomplished, inventive directing, In the Heights soars often enough to make it a joyous recommendation.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt