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Saturday
January 22nd, 2022

in the heights spotlight pageUsnavi (Anthony Ramos) and Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) share a tender moment in this scene from “In The Heights.” Courtesy photoELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive delay with many things last year, especially the movie business. One of the many movies that had its release postponed (and one I was particularly looking forward to) was the movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical “In The Heights.” The movie tells the story of a corner in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan in New York City, where each member of the community pursues their dream of a better life. And even though the movie’s release was postponed, I have to say, it was totally worth the wait. 

The first thing I have to say about this movie is it has A LOT of energy – i.e., if you were take the energy that practically vibrated  from this movie, you could power practically the entirety of New York. The musical numbers are full of energy, the colors and scenery design are dazzling to look at, and the costumes are also quite colorful (particularly in the big club scene about 2/3 through the movie). Overall, the movie is very bright and vibrant and it would be nearly impossible to be bored while watching it. 

The movie’s cast was also very good, especially Anthony Ramos as leading man Usnavi. His vocals are very good in every song he’s part of (particularly the opener), and he was able to portray pretty much every emotion under the sun with his acting chops. I also really liked Olga Merediz, who is reprising her Tony-nominated role as Abuela Claudia – she’s somewhat sprinkled off and on throughout the movie, and while she’s got less screen time than other characters, she is able to make EVERY SCENE count. Cory Hawkins and Leslie Grace were also quite adorable as school sweethearts Benny and Nina and had great chemistry, and Gregory Diaz IV also stole the movie a few times as Usnavi’s young cousin Sonny. Overall, the movie did a very good job with the casting of this movie. 

The musical numbers were also performed very well throughout the movie. There was definitely a distinct vision of how each number was supposed to look, and director Jon M. Chu definitely followed that, and the result is great. Probably my favorite number in the movie was “96,000,” which takes place at the community pool – the choreography in that number is absolutely stunning (thanks to choreographer  Christopher Scott, who had worked with Chu on a few other past projects), and it’s total eye candy. The “The Club” scene was also done extremely well and was another chance for the choreography to shine, and the cinematography for both those scenes was absolutely incredible. The number that got to me the most, however, was Abuela Claudia’s big number “Paciencia Y Fe.” The character reminded me of my own grandma (who actually passed away back in 2012), and the way Merediz performs the song, plus the visuals, legitimately brought a few tears to my eyes because that entire scene is just so moving. 

I also like how the messages of the movie are rather universal. It’s about people working hard toward their dreams, it’s about people finding their place in this world, and it’s about the legacy you leave behind – those are themes that can apply to everyone, no matter who you are or where you live. I also really liked how some current events were included in the movie, especially with the discussion about DACA and immigration – I think THAT would have come across slightly better had the movie kept its release date last year when that discussion was particularly heated, but it still works for in 2021.

While I overall enjoyed the movie, there were a few small things I had a problem with, beginning with the runtime, which is at nearly two and a half hours. While I understand the desire (particularly from fans) to keep everything when transferring a stage show to the big screen, there were a few things that definitely could have been either trimmed down or outright eliminated. For me, there were more than a few moments that felt like the movie was dragging and I felt like if about 15 minutes had been shaved from the runtime, it would have been perfect. I also wish the relationship between Nina and Benny had been given a little more screentime, I felt like they were kind of forgotten among everything and everyone else, which is a bit of a shame because the few numbers they have together are really good. 

Overall, I very much enjoyed my viewing of “In The Heights” this past weekend and would give it an A-minus grade. There is so much good energy throughout the entire movie and just about everything is pure eye candy. The cinematography is excellent, the choreography made my jaw drop, and the cast of the movie all did a great job. If you’re a fan of the original stage musical, you’ll enjoy seeing it on the big screen. 

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