In The Heights proves to be a big, bold and breathtaking summer escape: here’s our review of a terrific movie.
Converting a stage hit to the big screen doesn’t always guarantee success. However, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights makes the leap from stage to screen with choreographed precision. Screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes and director John M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) have managed to take this story and turn it into something bigger and bolder that deserves every inch of the big screen.
The story of the film centres on bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a man dreaming of returning to his native Dominican Republic, a dream he’s had since arriving in the US at the age of eight.
But this story does not simply belong to him. We move around the Washington Heights barrio as the film progresses, meeting many of its inhabitants: there’s Usnavi’s young and passionate cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), keen to join protests and save the world; his best mate, hard-working Benny (Corey Hawkins); salon owner Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega) whose been priced out of the neighbourhood; local success story Nina (Leslie Grace), home from university and scared to tell her father how lost she feels; the community’s matriarch Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), always looking out for everyone; and, of course, the original stage Usnavi, Lin-Manuel Miranda himself, is in there too, as ‘Piragua Guy’.
What we then get is a staggering marriage of story and spectacle, combining brilliantly realised characters and plot with breathtaking and often wildly ambitious dance and music numbers. Aside from just how catchy the songs are, each new number carries real weight, adding depth and context to the stories of the individual and the barrio itself.
‘Breathe’ is a particularly emotional number, delivered to perfection by Grace and the ensemble who perform the number with her. Washington Heights is a home and a community for those who have often been forced to leave their own, and not a place they take lightly. Abuela’s motto of ‘paciencia y fe’ (patience and faith) is there in their stories as each of them struggle to figure out what’s next and not to lose hope.
Chu’s adaptation is somehow simultaneously a specific tale of Latinx immigration to the US and a wider story of belonging and heritage that is inviting to all. Whether or not you recognise the dishes, the food is cooking on the stove, the music is playing, the sun is shining and there is plenty to go around.
Some of the most enjoyable moments come from the cheeky humour and banter that is dotted about throughout the film (especially one moment that’s worth sitting through the credits for). Yet it’s the heart pulsing throughout each scene that keeps the film’s momentum barrelling forward and stops it from ever feeling overlong (no mean feat, given the running time clocks in at 143 minutes).
Tears will be shed – some happy, some sad – but there’s just so much joy to be found in this glorious celebration of community, pride and belonging. In The Heights is the perfect summer escape. It’s just the kind of film that’s set to reward repeat viewings too. But that first time of seeing it? It might just make your heart sing. A flat-out triumph, and the high bar already for this summer’s movies.
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