In The Heights review by Bobby Blakey
Ever since his massive Broadway hit Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda has been making waves throughout Hollywood with a variety of roles and productions. Now he has teamed up with Crazy Rich Asians director John M. Chu to bring his musical stage production In The Heights to the big screen. The film features a great cast including Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco and Jimmy Smits. Could this film capture the music and essence of the show and culture or will it fail to hit the right note?
In the heights follows the scent of a cafecito caliente that hangs in the air just outside of the 181st Street subway stop, where a kaleidoscope of dreams rallies this vibrant and tight-knit community. At the intersection of it all is the likeable, magnetic bodega owner Usnavi, who saves every penny from his daily grind as he hopes, imagines and sings about a better life.
I admit that I am not a fan of musicals. The random singing for no apparent reason just annoys me. When the music is folded into the story I am all in, but as a whole they all tend to just drive me nuts. I was really looking forward to Hamilton with its hip hop flare, but found myself barely able to get through a half hour before I was out. So heading into this one I was trying to keep my expectations low and an open mind in hopes that it might be something that somehow captures my attention this time around.
Right out of the gate the music and singing kicks in as expected, but instead of being overly irritated by it all I found it worked. The Washington Heights setting and the culture showcased just felt fused and just came together in a way that is uplifting and gets you ready to have some fun. This tone stays pretty steady throughout most of the film bringing lots of fun musical and dance numbers that will keep you eager to dance along. The vibrant colors and styles throughout are characters all their own and create a visual story themselves that is further enhanced by the performers around them.
While not all the songs worked for me, the cast all did a great job. Everyone had their own time to shine with the always great Olga Merediz stealing every
scene she is in including a heartfelt number of her own. Despite this bringing a full on ensemble to the mix its Anthony Ramos leading the charge and does a great job. He brings that likable energy and talent to the role that is needed to really make it pop. Add to the mix his talent for singing, rapping and dancing and you have the perfect combination for the leading man to deliver the goods.
Stepping away from the straight up performances I think this film is yet another important cultural push forward for Latin culture. There are numerous moments here that showcase and deal with the struggles of minorities as well as celebrating their culture and pride without ever feeling like anything other than positive energy. Despite my usual dislike of musicals I will admit that this one hits all the right notes and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
During a time that is bringing the theaters back to life this feels like the kind of movie that could infuse them with the energy they need. It just feels like one that needs that big screen and booming surround sound to really bring the celebration to life the way it was meant to. Have no fear though, if you are still not ready to return you can also check it out on HBO MAX for the next 30 days as well.
Decide for yourself and check out In the Heights in theaters and HBO MAX now from Warner Bros.