A dizzying array of colours, singing, dancing and the heat – oh the heat – is ‘In The Heights.’
Lin-Manuel Miranda – the uber talented creator of Hamilton, wrote the stage version of ‘In the Heights’ while he was in college in New York City in the late 1990’s. Eventually it became a hit Broadway show and now, 20 years later, hits the big screen. The film is a homage to Washington Heights – the neighborhood in the upper upper west side of Manhattan (North of Harlem), an area which is predominately Dominican and Hispanic.
‘In the Heights’ comes at you at a mile a minute with musical numbers that are larger than life. The story is what you would expect: a love story centered around a negibhorhood full of a very colorful cast of characters (only in the movies!). Unsavi (a charming and winning Anthony Romas) runs a bodega on a street corner, employing cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz). Unsavi secretly pines for customer and aspiring fashion designer Vanessa (Kardashian look-alike Melissa Barrera) who works in a beauty salon owned by Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega). There is also Nina (Leslie Grace), who left the ‘hood to go to college at Stanford, but returns back back to tell her father (Jimmy Smits) that college is not really for her, falling back into the arms of Benny (Corey Hawkins) who works for her father. And there there is the matriarch of the neighbhood – Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) – who raised Unsavi. So with all these characters there are lots of stories to tell, and lots of lots of singing. Filmed on a Brooklyn sound stage, the street of Washington Heights look very full of life – with everyone happy all the time. But at times the singing and dancing scenes become a bit too much – so many dancers in the dance scenes muddle the scenes – the camera can’t pick it all up, and it’s impossible to take it all in. Plus as the film takes place in the middle of a heatwave, with a pending blackout, their sweat becomes our sweat. ‘In the Heights’ is a film that needs to cool down and slow down. A dance scene where both actors dance on the side of the building is nauseating, and some use of animation is so out of place. Some of songs and themes of the film kept me thinking back to ‘Rent’, a show from the 1990’s that took place in NYC’s Lower East Side, and some of the songs in ‘In the Heights’ are a bit like the songs in “Rent.’ perhaps Miranda used “Rent’ as an inspiration to write ‘In the Heights.’
However, it’s a beautiful love story, and all the characters (there are many in this 143 minute film) have something to say. And the actors are all brilliant, with Ramos expertly holding and keeping the film together, and Barrera and Grace both bound for stardom. Director John Chu (‘Crazy Rich Asians) gives it his all, and then some. But as Daniela the salon owner, Rubin-Vega is perfectly cast. She originated the role of Mimi in ‘Rent’, and when it came time to make the movie of ‘Rent’ she was pregnant so was the only cast member from the stage show not to be in the film. Here she gets her revenge in a role that’s perfect for her.
‘In The Heights’ opens Friday June 18th in UK cinemas.
Review by Tim Baros