The Stream: Too long.
The Big Screen: Excellent production, diversity, and display of musical talents
The Final Bill: A long, heartfelt, and seldom told story of the people of the United States– Trip Fontaine (commentary by S2S)
Director: Jon M. Chu
Writers: Quiara Alegría Hudes (screenplay by), Quiara Alegría Hudes (based on the musical stage play, book by) | 1 more credit
Stars: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace | See full cast & crew
Genre: Drama, Music, Musical
Runtime: 2 hours 18 minutes
Production Companies: Warner Bros., 5000 Broadway Productions, Likely Story See more
Platform: In Theaters and HBO Max June 11, 2021
Streamers, it’s finally here! In the Heights has been released this weekend simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max after being delayed an entire year due to the pandemic. I’m sure for fans of the Tony-winning Broadway production they have been waiting even longer than just this year delay. With this vibrant and energetic musical coming to the big screen, it’s just another sign of America gradually emerging from the pandemic and the summer movie season in full swing. I braved the theater to get the “heights” of In the Heights, and here’s how it went.
As I mentioned, In the Heights is an adaptation of the Broadway musical from Lin-Manuel Miranda with the screenplay written by Quiara Alegria Hudes and directed by John M. Chu. The elements come together with eye-catching visuals, fierce choreography and heartfelt songs to tell the story of Washington Heights and the people there who are striving to achieve their dreams. Our main character and narrator is Usnavi, who owns the bodega, but he is saving to move back home to the Dominican Republic. Usnavi introduces us to the rest of the main ensemble, which includes Vanessa, an aspiring fashion designer trying to move downtown; Nina, the brilliant student who left to attend Stanford; Benny, Nina’s love interest and dispatcher at Nina’s father’s business; Mr. Rosario, Nina’s father who will do anything for Nina to succeed; and Abuela Claudia, the heart and soul of the community. Their stories weave in and out infused with music and hope telling a quintessential story about community, growth and the price of chasing dreams.
If you are a fan of musicals, you will be swept away by In the Heights. The filmmakers have done a remarkable job translating this stage musical into a movie spectacle. Everything is big – group dance numbers, swooping shots of Washington Heights, bright, enticing colors and infectious music. Casting Anthony Ramos as Usnavi was the best thing for this movie. He’s a grounding presence and such a talented guy. Ramos has got that Lin-Manuel cadence down pluses he’s cool and charming and can move. He captures the emotion of his character and connects to the others in the ensemble very well. I’ll also single out Olga Merediz, who is the emotional center. She is so wonderful as Abuela Claudia. She really embodies the warmth attributed to her character, and it is so believable that the entire block sees her as their abuela. She has a moving musical number as well. Ramos and Merediz are just two of the cast that are great, but all of the performances are top notch and each character has a moment to shine.
What’s really great about In the Heights is that it truly is a feel-good movie. There is no unnecessary villain, and even though some of the story tends towards some clichés, it is always engaging. There are some really great set pieces with a lot of dancers and great, propulsive music – each one is like a big shot of adrenaline. The film does a lot to keep your attention and movie the story along to a satisfying conclusion. However, it must be said that 2 hours and 18 minutes is a long runtime. It could have been 20 or so minutes shorter and still told the same wonderful and vibrant story, but I didn’t mind spending this time in Washington Heights with Usnavi, Abuela Claudia, Vanessa, Benny, Nina and the rest.
For me, In the Heights is a must see film, especially for musical fans. There’s a great cast giving wonderful performances. The music is infectious and the visuals are vibrant. While the film is too long, it never bores and has a really heartfelt and beautiful message. Grab that big box of popcorn and don’t miss this movie – at the theaters or on HBO Max, whichever you prefer.
S2S: I agree with Trip wholly. As a New York resident and public defender of the Bronx, this is absolutely a lovely story about our people. This is also a story that needs to be explained across the country. We have Americans all across this country from different backgrounds that are just coming to live a great life. Let their stories be heard and give them a chance to thrive. Let’s keep the neighborhoods alive and with the spirit they’ve cultivated for decades. Never forget the past and never stop trying to bring about a better future. My only qualm with this movie is it feels a bit too Hamilton/Lin-Manuel-ish at times. He’s brilliant, and Quiara Hudes has brilliantly distilled the stage musical into this movie. Can’t wait for more from both with an even more unique voice. Musicals aren’t everyone’s jam but for those of you that are afraid of the singing and dancing, I must admit you’ll still be touched by the storytelling and visual display in this movie. You might not rush to it, but if you have time and HBO Max you’ll be entertained with a bowl of popcorn.