#REVIEW: “IN THE HEIGHTS”
By Mr. Will Wong
Based on Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s 2007 Tony Award-winning Musical of the same name, comes Jon M. Chu‘s big screen adaptation of IN THE HEIGHTS. Set in Washington Heights, the story embodies the beauty, struggles and hopes of living in a predominantly Latinx neighbourhood, known also as “Little Dominican Republic”.
The story is set around bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), young, hard-working and likable. He had lost his parents and is hoping to re-connect with his roots in the Dominican Republic. This, just as his romance with Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), an aspiring fashion designer working at a beauty salon, is looming and their separate paths just might be the end of their relationship. We also meet Nina (Leslie Grace) who is her family’s best shot at conquering the American Dream, attending Stanford, but she struggles to break the news to them that she has dropped-out.
Through dazzling Choreography and Music of multiple genres like Salsa, Merengue to Hip-Hop and more, In the Heights not only is a physical, spiritual and emotional love letter to the Latinx community, but also a depiction of the issues that plague the community. It looks at the very now struggles faced in the possible deportation of “Dreamers” and racism. Even Nina faces this at her prestigious school being accused and searched of theft. It also understands what opportunities a little bit of money could mean to paving a future.
Chu who wowed us with 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, fits like a glove here, but is faced with the very tall task of bringing to life a story with several characters and storylines, doing it in a way to captures and maintains our attention for 143 minutes. In honouring the source material so well, this Adaptation does face some struggles getting it all in and admittedly, it is a lot – a lot of talented performers bringing their A-Game and even Miranda himself surfaces a few times.. and after the credits!
And in all of this, the colourful scenery (captured so beautifully by Cinematographer Alice Brooks) and personalities, we lose a bit of the focus that should be placed on our central characters and their personal journeys. When adapting something this ambitious for the big screen, some judicious choices need to be made for the sake of flow and storytelling and there were opportunities to tighten the Film further.
That being said, nobody can deny Ramos‘ magical magnetism, commanding every scene he appears and nailing every technical task thrown his way. He’s equally strong as an Actor, Singer and a Dancer. The Film also is a showcase of the captivating work by both of its leading ladies, Barrera and Grace. We were wowed by Corey Hawkins’ (Straight Outta Compton) range – he plays the latter’s partner, Benny. Olga Merediz who originated the role of Abuela Claudia, who raised Usnavi, is unforgettable in the limited time she is seen on-screen, truly embodying the virtue and good of the community – the Movie’s true showstopper moment.
Fans of IN THE HEIGHTS and Miranda should find pure delight in this adaptation, which honours the legacy from which it was borne.
Warner Bros. Canada release IN THE HEIGHTS Thursday, June 10, 2021 in theatres where available, and on PVOD. Check back soon for our chats with Chu and the Cast.
*Please ensure you exercise caution in observing COVID-19 protocols if seeing this in-theatre.*