In the Heights (2021)
Director: Jon M. Chu
Writer: Quiara Legria Hudes
Starring: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, and Jimmy Smits
Plot: In the summer before he’s finally leaving, a 20-something immigrant realizes how important his New York community is to him.
Review: I think it’s official. I love Lin-Manuel Miranda. Because I love a good musical and, if the dude knows one thing, it’s how to write a good musical. Last year, I spent my Independence Day watching Hamilton for the first time on Disney+ and it blew me away. As dedicated readers will know, I ended up ranking it as my number one favorite movie of last year… even though I’d barely count it as a movie. And, honestly, I enjoyed In the Heights just as much. I had a whole showing to myself and it was an EXPERIENCE. I laughed. I cried. I almost got up to dance a couple of times. Seriously, I enjoyed this movie so freaking much. It was a delight.
Having no access to Broadway and having a rule against listening to soundtracks before seeing a version of the musical first, this was my first experience with In the Heights. Literally everything was new to me. So, a lot of my thoughts on it are super fresh. Basically, what I’m saying is don’t judge for me mixing the play and the movie together, because, to me in this particular moment, they’re one entity.
First of all, this is exactly the musical we needed right now. While there’s a border crisis going on and immigration is a hot button issue debated on every news network for hours on end, it’s nice to remember that these are human lives we are talking about. They come over here to make better lives for themselves and their families and it’s not fair that our society throws them to the side. This gives you example after example of the shit this population has to deal with as we make our way around Washington Heights getting to know each of its residents. It’s the shit that the more privileged of us don’t ever have to worry about. We get minimum wage jobs to start off. For many like this, that’s their life’s work. It’s truly heartbreaking, especially as we see them lusting over money that many would consider chump change. And don’t even get me started on when this movie covers the process of having an undocumented immigrant become a legal one. It’s a struggle we barely ever see on the big screen and I’m glad we finally got to shine a big budget light on it.
But, of course, it’s not all gloom and doom. It’s a musical. And, for the most part, musicals are fun. Miranda, especially, seems to have a way with turning serious issues into fun, upbeat productions. In Hamilton, it was a rallying cry to the country to remember the ideals we were founded on. For In the Heights, it’s spotlighting the working class that’s very often shunned. In a way, it feels you with the same pride and optimism. Not to mention, the music is has a very similar vibe to it. If you’re one of those people that have been vibing to the Hamilton soundtrack for months, it may be time to transition. Because these songs are amazing. The way he balances storytelling and heart and hummable lyrics is amazing. Like I said, I think I love Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s gotta be one of the most talented people on this planet. Count me as a super fan, because I’m in on whatever he does from this point on.
But it’s not I’m just praising the musical itself here. The movie making on display is top notch. They use the medium for things that you couldn’t do on a stage version. There’s so many examples of unique visual storytelling hacks here. Whether it’s effects added to give the lyrics a visual aids, a beautiful camera shot where the dancing crowd is shown through reflection instead of directly on camera, or a couple dancing on the side of a building to show how the real world fades away when they’re together, I loved each and every decision John M. Chu made here. Plus, the musical numbers were big, bold and beautifully choreographed. I hope he’s not forgotten when award season rolls around.
It can’t be understated how perfectly cast this movie was either. I definitely applaud Warner Bros for casting people who can both sing and act. I know it can be hard for movie musicals with massive budgets to do that. They just wanna cast big names to get butts in the seats. That’s how we end up with someone like Russell Crowe in Les Miserables. *Shutter* But, In the Heights is definitely a different story. Through the nature of the show, each cast member is given a chance to shine and they all absolutely nail it. These people may not have been stars going in, but I can definitely see them becoming stars after. This is especially true with Anthony Ramos. He was great in Hamilton, but this is next level. The charm and heart he brought to Usnavi is perfect. Don’t be surprised if you see him in several huge blockbusters in the next couple years. Likewise, the two lead actresses, Leslie Grace and Melissa Barrera, who were unknown to me going in completely blew me away. They both have beautiful voices, top notch acting skills, and that “it factor” that makes them shine on the big screen. They were terrific. But, honestly, I could go on and on about this cast. They were all so good in their roles. I can’t wait to rewatch this just to spend more time with these characters.
Overall, I really, really enjoyed In the Heights. It feels like the perfect summer movie. It’s big. It’s bold. The cast is perfect. The soundtrack is amazing. The directing is beautifully done. This is my favorite live action musical since La La Land. If you haven’t made your way back to a theater yet, this would be a great one to welcome you back. Like I said, I very much had an experience during my showing.
TL;DR: In the Heights has an important message for the times, while also being a really fun, really well done live action musical.
Score: 9/10 (Amazing)