It wouldn’t be fair to describe Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights as pure spectacle—but in the context of being the first major studio release in nearly a year-and-a-half, it’s hard not to leave the theatre feeling like you’ve just experienced something magnificent. Whether a large-scale musical can hold its own against the return of franchise cinema remains to be seen, but I’d love to see Miranda kick Marvel’s ass any day, even if his other projects have been on the Disney payroll.
Usnavi (Anthony Ramos of Hamilton, and the best part of the movie) runs a small bodega in Washington Heights, a Manhattan neighborhood built up by immigrants terrified of the approaching gentrification. He dreams of returning to his beloved Dominican Republic—and he’s far from the only one with a sueñito (little dream). All the residents of the neighborhood hold dual dreams of escape and a contrasting eternity in the neighborhood, forcing recent college drop-out Nina (Leslie Grace), fashion-designer hopeful Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) and business dreamer Benny (Corey Hawkins) to face the hard realities of what it means to succeed.
Director Jon M. Cho (Crazy Rich Asians) gives In the Heights a hyper-reality still heavily grounded in actual realism. It’s editing isn’t always clean, and the occasional screenwriting choice is questionable; no mind-bending plot twists exist here, and it prefers to linger closer to trodden paths so characters have room to explore their psyches—men and women, of all backgrounds, trying to find value in themselves. They don’t dream of fame, but of a sense movement in their lives.
Nowadays one must warn people they’re about to see a musical—so if you’ve struggled with others, or you even just hesitate at the thought of positive filmmaking, In the Heights will be regrettably difficult for you. Still, it’s a pure film however unpolished it may be at times, and a long tribute to immigrants everywhere who’ve built themselves up from circumstances beyond their control.
In the Heights is an ibuprofen for the soul—a gorgeous if imperfect evolution of the cinematic musical.
+ You’ll feel all giddy afterwards
- Could be trimmed in length just a bit
In the Heights
Directed by Cho
With Ramos, Grace and Hawkins
Violet Crown, Regal Santa Fe Place, HBO Max, PG-13, 143 min