Director: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lin-Manuel Miranda and his work is becoming widely known around the world. It wasn’t going to be long before his original stage musical was brought from the stage and turned into a big screen epic musical. The adaptation being directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), with a screenplay from Quiara Alegría Hudes. I going to admit upfront that I don’t know the original musical, so I can’t compare the two or comment on the changes made.
The story is framed with Usnavi, played by Anthony Ramos, telling a small group of children including his daughter, about Washington Heights, a mostly Latino neighbourhood in upper Manhattan, and the stories of the people who live there. Through the first musical number, also named In the Heights, you are welcomed into a fantastical wonderous world. Straight away, this is begging to be seen on the big screen, with a massive dance sequence on the streets and one hell of a catchy song, that you don’t mind being stuck in your head. During this song we are introduced to the numerous characters and their stories that bring life to Washington Heights.
Each story is continued through fantastic songs and dance, that is a magical spectacle to watch. Each is given enough time to breath in the packed film, that flies by even with it’s almost 2 and a half hour run time. You will be gripped by each character’s story. Even though there is a lot of darkness in the story, most of it is masked with very upbeat and energetic songs, filled with magic and wonder. Even though there is a positive tone on the surface, the darker side is still there and there are loads of emotional scenes. I could hear people around me crying in the cinema at certain points.
The whole cast is amazing, and all fit their roles perfectly. Everyone can sing and dance. There isn’t a weak link at all. All the characters are likeable as well, with you wanting each one of them to succeed and fulfil their dreams. There isn’t really a villain in the film, for the most part, the characters are wrestling with themselves, their past and heritage and finding a place for themselves in the world.
This is a film about finding where you belong. It tells the story of people whose families moved them to America, most of the main characters were too young to remember the countries they came from. There is a sense of not knowing where you belong woven throughout the film. The neighbourhood is being gentrified around them, with things such as a dry-cleaning business being too expensive for the community to afford. Finding where you belong, and not feeling like you belong. It’s a universal theme, that is accessible and relatable by most people. It’s a story about being an individual in a community, making a mark in the world so people notice you and fulfilling your dreams.
In the Heights is an amazing film, with a great cast. It’s an old tale of chasing your dreams and making a mark on the world, but through very cinematic sequences, catchy songs and mesmerising dances, the film feels fresh and full of life. This is the film of the summer for sure and is bound to become a timeless classic, joining the ranks of West Side Story, Grease and The Wizard of Oz as musicals that pass-through generation after generation.