IN THE HEIGHTS – Review by Susan Granger
Jon Chu’s In the Heights is the most dazzling movie musical in years! Adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Broadway show, the eye-popping cinematography and awesome choreography make it the summer’s first fun, feel-good movie.
Washington Heights is a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Upper Manhattan near the George Washington Bridge.
Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos) runs a small bodega off 181st Street with his young cousin, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV). For years, Usnavi has dreamt of returning to the Dominican Republic to revive his late father’s beachside bar. But he’s infatuated with ambitious Vanessa (Melissa Berrera), who’s passionate about fashion design.
His best friend Benny (Corey Hawkins) loves Nina (Leslie Grace); after her freshman year at Stanford, where she felt marginalized, she tells her father (Jimmy Smits) she wants to drop out and return to the comfort of the vibrant, close-knit barrio community.
Then there’s Usnavi’s elderly Abuela Claudia with Olga Merediz reprising her Tony-nominated role, chronicling the Latina matriarch’s poignant move from Havana to New York.
Unlike Hamilton, a filmed version of the Broadway musical, In the Heights has a several splashy set-pieces. Recalling Busby Berkeley’s synchronized swimming sequences, one shows the entire neighborhood dreaming of what they’d do if they won the lottery while splashing in the massive Highsbridge Pool.
Another is a ‘hat-tip’ to Fred Astaire’s gravity-defying Royal Wedding sequence, as Nina and Benny sing and dance on the side of an apartment building, challenging the laws of physics. Movie magic at its best.
Adapted/updated by Quiara Alegria Hudes, who wrote the original book, and directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), the specificity of its layered roots ring true. The cleverly rhymed rap music complexity of each number propels the plot/theme, illuminating the Latino immigrant experience for a mainstream audience.
Alice Brooks’ cinematography, Christopher Scott’s choreography and Nelson Coates’ production design are outstanding, plus there’s Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cameo as the Piragua Guy, selling icy treats.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, In the Heights is a heartwarming, jubilant 10. See it in theaters or on HBO Max.