“In The Heights” was directed by Jon M. Chu & based on the stage musical of same name that was written by Lin Manuel Miranda & Quiara Aleria Hudes. The film stars Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Daphne Rubin-Vega & Jimmy Smits. The film rights were picked up in 2008 with Universal producing and Kenny Ortega before it fell though by the end of that year. It was picked up again in 2016 but didn’t take off until 2018 when Chu was signed to direct & Ramos to star and then rest of cast join and began filming in the summer 2019. The film was scheduled for a 2020 release but was pushed back to 2021 due to the COVID pandemic.
Usnavi del la Vega (Ramos) tells the story to a group of children of his home of Washington Heights, a suburb of Manhattan, New York. Usnavi runs a small bodega on the block with his teenage cousin, Sonny. Along the block is a limo service run by Kevin Rosario (Smits) and dispatched by Benny (Hawkins) and then nail salon run by Daniela (Vega) and where Vanessa (Barrera) works. Vanessa is young girl who aspires to be a fashion designer in upscale New York. Usnavi has a secret crush on Vanessa but has a hard time telling her. Kevin’s daughter, Nina (Grace) returns home from Stanford University. Nina is also the ex girlfriend of Benny and sparks began to fly once again after they reunite. The story goes that Usnavi is saving up to return to the Dominic Republic, his home country however with him gone he’ll have to close the bodega. After rent cost began to rise, Daniela has come to the decision to move her salon to the Bronx. With their block slowly falling apart, everyone is doing their best to keep everything together but with everyone having their own dark secrets, how bad can one block get if one small bodega closes for good, but at east the music is very nice.
Personally, I have a soft spot for musicals on the big screen like “Rent”, “Hairspray”, “Grease” & “Chicago”, so this film’s trailer peak my interest. The film as a whole has great musical numbers, tone & incredible visuals. The performances from Ramos, Hawkins & Barrera are fantastic and are the clear standouts. My only complaint about the film is that while the musical numbers are great, they’re just too many of them, even from a musical stand point. They don’t use the actors or dialogue enough for storytelling purposes rather just use the music to tell the story and even scene transitions. It works for the stage but not a live action movie. The use of veteran actors like Jimmy Smits and theatre greats like Daphne Rubin-Vega are used properly just not enough in my opinion. They give solid performances but not enough screen time.
Overall, this was a solid outing as a film but very good as musical. Lin Manuel Miranda has a great ear for music when it comes to film, composing and soundtracks. The film’s disappointment at the box office is disheartening but then again when the movie theaters opened back up the last thing movie goers were interested in was a musical. If you’re a fan of musicals or Lin Manuel Miranda’s other on stage musical, “Hamilton”, “In The Heights” is just the film you have to see.