Lin-Manuel Miranda has made a name for himself with the smash hit Tony Award-winning production of Hamilton a few years ago. Since then he’s written the music for the Disney animated film Moana, starred as a lamplighter in Mary Poppins Returns, and played an Aeronaut in the HBO television series His Dark Materials, based on the popular book series by Phillip Pullman. Before all that he produced the Broadway musical In the Heights about his life growing up in Washington Heights, New York, a section of Manhattan,. After all his other success he has finally been able to bring In the Heights to the big screen with the help of Warner Brothers.
In the Heights was delayed a year but it comes out on June 11th everywhere including HBO Max. It’s the story of Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) (Hamilton, Monsters and Men, A Star is Born) who owns a bodega, a small grocery store in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood. His dream is of owning his own restaurant on a beach in Puerto Rico. Along with him, the film focuses on his girlfriend Venessa (Melissa Berrara) as an inspiring fashion designer, and another couple, Benny (Corey Hawkins), and his love interest, Nina (Leslie Grace), a singer-songwriter.
In a musical, there are a lot of other characters that round out the cast. Jimmy Smits, Marc Anthony, Rita Moreno (West Side Story), and Ariana Greenblatt are a few of the others in a very large cast of actors who round out this cast. Everybody has their own subplot revolving around regentrification in this neighborhood in New York in the 1980s. Like most people, everybody has a dream, and getting out of this hot neighborhood in New York is first and foremost on their minds. It makes sense to want to go to greener pastures if you’re from a packed area in a big city.
All great musicals have to have great songs that are memorable in the context of the film. In the instance of In the Heights, it’s the first song introducing the main characters and the world they live in. This was a huge spring number that brought me into their world. I felt like I knew where these people were from the right of the bat at the beginning of the film. The rest of the songs from “Benny’s Dispatch”, “It Won’t Be Long Now”, to “When You’re Home” all help understand the characters’ motivations and where they want to go in their lives. They focus on the character aspects after the first opening number. I care about all of these people and their lives.
Musicals can be a bit set locked and not very realistic as far as their production values go. In the Heights brings the viewer into this world with vigor. The locations are brought to life beautifully. The color pallet they use on the buildings and the signage jump of the screen and bring light to the neighborhood. The cinematography is masterful. The costumes and hairstyles match this ’80s aesthetic perfectly. All of these aspects of the film bring the viewer instantly into this world. It comes alive on screen. The filmmakers deserve all the credit for this.
Jon M. Chu, famous for directing G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Now You Can See Me 2, and the breakout hit of 2018, Crazy Rich Asians, is at the helm of In the Heights. With the help of Lin-Manuel Miranda, he was able to make this film relatable to everyone watching even though it is predominantly about the Latin American community in Brooklyn, New York, it is accessible to all those watching it. The struggles and family aspects can be translated into any community, black, white, or Latino. This is the real achievement of In the Heights.
There have been a lot of different kinds of musicals on the big screen. During the ’50s and ’60s, they were more prominent. Over the last few decades, there haven’t been as many of them. If one has come out on the big screen or streaming it hasn’t been that good. The story might be good but the songs aren’t. That’s a big problem with musicals lately. They just don’t bring the viewer in with memorable songs. That’s what In the Heights gets right. It brings the viewers into this world with the songs and once that happens you’re hooked on Usnavi’s story along with all the others. This is a perfect film for people of all ages, races, creeds, and religions. It’s the first legitimate Oscar contender of the year.
Dan Skip Allen
Founder/EIC disappointment media