FINALLY, my most anticipated film of the year “In The Heights” has arrived. Originally brought to you as a play by Lin Manuel-Miranda in 2005 BEFORE Hamilton was all the rage, written once again by Quiara Alegria Hudes and directed this time by Jon M. Chu, it had every opportunity to blow itself out of the water or sink under the weight of its own expectations. I must say however.....the first time I tried to see it, the screen was either blurry the whole time or just wouldn’t show the picture so my experience was piss poor. Internally, I was not a happy man.
Soon as I went back to see it again, literally two minutes into the first song, I got a big fat smile over my face. This movie is more than representation to Latino culture or a jubilant powerful tribute to both a beloved neighborhood and the lives of those who lived there; it is yet another blueprint for a revitalization of the modern musical experience, solidifying yet ANOTHER win for Lin-Manuel Miranda.
As a visually appetizing treat with lavishing landscapes, remarkable artistic palette with picturesque color grading and an intricate eye for detail, it’s a fast-paced heady mix of Rent, Fame, and West Side Story in terms of style and Jon M. Chu’s multifaceted direction runs the gamut, heightening just the right amount of dreamlike authenticity in the atmosphere that encompassed such a magnetic pull over me. Rarely does that direction falter in the presence of uneven pacing midway through the second act, as he still grounds the foundation centered squarely around the community presented and never loses focus of these characters or the overarching narrative at hand. Said characters are down to earth and/or have compelling dynamics that can be inspirational to many, we have polarizing energy and chemistry from the cast throughout to back up those performances, production design is beautiful as ever and the pacing stays mostly consistent throughout all the joyful noise.
Similar to the musical style in Hamilton, every single musical number is packed with very exquisite choreography and infectious fluency to its timely lyrics and I legitimately could not find a SINGLE song that I did not dance along or hum to. Said choreography further deepened the joie de vivre behind the cinematography, the songs and the culture that inspired every note.
It’s story represents many things: ambitious, hard-working people chasing their dreams. A reflection on the immigrant experience and the struggle to find where you belong. A tribute to our parents' sacrifices; all of which have been told in film multiple times in the past. But outside of its own commitment to its diversity and representation, the genius that Lin Manuel-Miranda incorporated into the play was further broadened in the theatrical cut, thanks in turn to how well it separates itself from Hamilton. While nowhere near as sharply focused as Hamilton, it’s not trying to be and it doesn’t try to be anything more while still running the gamut of its own narrative.
If I were to bring to light anything that annoyed me, it would have to be Benny and Nina. Both of their character arcs are DRASTICALLY stripped down, including three very important songs and the tension between their relationship and Nina’s parents disapproving from the play. The same could be said for other characters who either aren’t as developed as the main central characters or don’t even get their arcs finished before the end.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I didn’t get as attached to the play before watching but my experience wasn’t fully disturbed during my viewing. I still walked out with my expectations met and fulfilled and as a former New Yorker, the smile it brought to my face didn’t fade away. Now I know when I go back to New York, I’ll pay a visit to good ol’ Washington Heights.