Updated: Jul 7
Film: In The Heights
Starring: Anthony Ramos, Cory Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jimmy Smits, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Marc Anthony, Olga Meredith
Director: Jon M. Chu
Review: Klep Napier
Rating: 3.5X’s out of 5X’s
Composer Lin Manuel Miranda’s [Hamilton] original story and signature sound jump from the stages of Broadway and onto the silver screen in “In The Heights”.
In The Heights follows Usnavi [Anthony Ramos] and a variety of characters living in the neighborhood of Washington Heights, on the northern tip of Manhattan. At the center of the story is Usnavi, a bodega owner who looks after an aging Cuban lady next door, struggles to woo the gorgeous girl working in the neighboring beauty salon and dreams of escaping to the shores of his native Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, Nina, a childhood friend of Usnavi's, has returned to the neighborhood from her first year at college with surprising news for her father, who has spent his life savings on building a better life for their daughter. Ultimately, the story sheds light on Usnavi and the neighborhood, about what it means to be home.
In The Heights is much more than a “day in the life” drama. The film is stylish in the way that only musicals can be. Mixing Latin sounds, Hiphop, footsteps, car horns and key jingles to set up the soundtrack of the film.
During some moments, it tends to feel like a Latin musical version of Kevin Smith’s Clerks. We spend a lot time in the local Bodega, building around the Usnavi [Ramos] character and other key players of the story. But these are the more charming moments on the screen. Not to mention it’s also the setting where they kick off of our first toe tapping title song “In The Heights” begins. It’s in this one piece where you get to an understanding of what to expect from each individual character and what they’ll be bringing to the screen and oh boy it is a party.
Lin Manuel Miranda not only nails his minor, and hilarious cameo, but his ability to musically bring honor to his Latin roots while staying versatile enough to keep us all engaged is second to none. This one is for the real musical lovers and even more for Latin pride all over the world. You will enter a world of cultural self respect, dignity and talent that isn’t normally displayed in most homes of America.
Let’s talk about the differences between the film and the play write. Obviously the casting has changed. We personally believe that the film is better casted when it comes to representation and relevancy. Not to say the play didn’t have extremely talented cast members, but the film just translates better while relating to its current audience today. It also digs deeper into the individuals, creating more character substance. But beyond story telling and race bending a couple of characters like Benny [Cory Hawkin] and Graffitti Pete [Noah Catala], another alteration was removing Nina’s [Leslie Grace] mother from the story putting more emphasis on the financial sacrifice made by her father Kevin played by [Jimmy Smit]. But the most pleasant surprise was seeing the heart warming performance from the only returning original cast member, Olga Meredith who’s portal of Abuela Claudia could never be replaced.
Now let’s get to the things that take away from this film. Miranda has you by the heartstrings the moment the first tune drops , but the inspirational tale told is extremely predictable. If you can’t see it coming through the dialogue feel it coming through the soundtrack. Either way In The Heights maybe a little too easy to follow but it’s a ride worth hopping on if you enjoy an intentional emotional roller coaster which you can sing along to.
Overall In The Heights speaks to generations whether you’re new to it’s culture or were raised in it. We recommend studying up on the soundtrack before checking out the film. The journey is so much sweeter when you can not only feel the moment, but also join in on it as well.
In The Heights hits theaters and HBO Max June 11th, 2021