Lights up on Washington Heights as Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians, Now You See Me 2) directs In the Heights, a musical drama based on Qiara Alegría Hudes and Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Tony-winning musical of the same name. This film follows the members of the Washington Heights community as they face a blackout, all while pursuing their dreams.
Miranda has gained a fair amount of well-deserved recognition for his work on the beloved Broadway musical Hamilton, which arrived on Disney+ in the summer of 2020 following the delay of this movie’s theatrical release. Now that movie theaters are finally opening back up, audiences may be looking for a reason to return.
This movie is that very reason. Because after a global pandemic led to a cinematic drought, films like this affirm that the summer movie season is back, as this is an energetic musical feat well worth a trip to your local theater.
In the Heights offers everything a musical lover may expect and more. Lin Manuel-Miranda is one of the most talented lyricists of our time, and his work shines in this movie. His ear for unexpectedly perfect rhymes comes through in volumes as we get very well-written songs and raps.
This is very much a movie made for those who love a good musical number. And this film provides many of them, giving us beautiful songs at every corner with magnificent vocal performances from the brilliant cast of actors and singers, with Anthony Ramos earning his leading man status.
But of course, this isn’t just a movie where people stand around and sing. This movie offers dance sequences that pop off the screen. The choreography is incredible to behold as the entire ensemble, and every extra gets a piece of the shimmies and twirls.
Perhaps the standout sequence of the film is the iconic “96,000” musical number, complete with an omitted reference to Donald Trump within the song’s lyrics (thank god). This is the highlight of the entire movie, with extras dancing in a swimming pool and a really damn good song.
Chu helms the film with a considerable amount of energy, as every musical number is bursting with life and movement. Even in the film’s quieter moments, Chu manages to take simple sound effects and incorporate them into the soundtrack's beat.
The way the camera moves and the excellent songs keep the film going at an admirable pace. Corey Hawkins and Leslie Grace co-star in the movie as two lovers, and the musical number they share near the end of the film is nothing short of breathtaking.
While the film may be overshadowed by Miranda’s other smash-hit musical, and the story may have a few too many layers, it’s a massively enjoyable film about Latino culture within a tight-knit New York City neighborhood. Nearly every character has something that can resonate with viewers, and as far as musicals go, it can’t get much better than this.
The film’s appropriate setting in the middle of a heatwave makes this the perfect event of the summer. While the film will be landing on streaming the day of the theatrical release, this movie is your ticket back to the theaters (if you’re vaccinated, which you should be).
Some may have forgotten the magic of going to an auditorium with your family and friends, having an absolute blast, and enjoying a nice meal on the same day. In the Heights is sure to remind us and it is worth every penny of the theatrical experience, so when the film lands in cinemas, don’t miss it for the world.
Grade: ★★★★☆ [8/10, B+]
In the Heights is in theaters and on HBO Max June 11, 2021.
Rating: PG-13 for some language and suggestive references