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In the Heights
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Jon M Chu
scr Quiara Alegria Hudes
prd Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegria Hudes, Scott Sanders, Anthony Bregman, Mara Jacob
with Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Jimmy Smits, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stephanie Beatriz, Marc Anthony, Ariana Greenblatt
release US 11.Jun.21,
21/US Warners 2h23
Is it streaming?
An exuberant celebration of the immigrant experience, Lin-Manuel Miranda's pre-Hamilton musical transfers to the big screen with perhaps too much attention to detail. It feels Disneyfied, with sets, costumes, hair and makeup that look pristinely styled just before cameras rolled. And there's also a problem with the superficial story threads and song lyrics. But the blend of music and dance explodes with joyful energy, and the cast is terrific.
In Washington Heights, New York, Usnavi (Ramos) is now running his parents' corner shop, dreaming about returning to the Dominican Republic to open a beachfront bar, encouraged by his sparky cousin Sonny (Diaz) and loving abuela Claudia (Merediz). He's also crippled with insecurity about his crush, the wannabe designer Vanessa (Barrera), who clearly adores him too. Meanwhile, Usnavi's best pal Benny (Hawkins) is pursuing Nina (Grace), daughter of his boss Kevin (Smits), but she has returned home from Stanford feeling like a failure. And as gentrification threatens the neighbourhood, a power blackout is coming.
Thankfully, the big-hearted approach overcomes the movie cliches. Various subplots reflect both the changing community and the fact that each person has his or her own personal dreams, including hairdresser Daniela (Rubin-Vega), who is selling up and moving to Queens. This becomes even more on-the-nose with Sonny, an undocumented Dreamer immigrant. Along the way, there are also pointed comments on bigotry, crushing expectations and commercial realities.
The up-for-it cast pour themselves into the hyper-physical choreography and belting songs while adeptly underscoring the emotions. Ramos is a hugely likeable lead, holding our affection even when Usnavi does some truly stupid things. Barrera and Grace both shine in strong scenes all their own, Hawkins overplays the kinetic Benny but keeps him endearing, and Rubin-Vega shines especially in the huge street-party. And with their involving roles, Merediz and Diaz are adept scene-stealers.
The film vividly depicts that tug of war between a fondly remembered homeland and an adopted culture and family. Oddly, the themes aren't unpacked in the snappy songs, which mainly feature witty lists of generic observations, nostalgia and small talk. The best number, both lyrically and visually, lets characters express what they'd do if they won a $96,000 lottery jackpot, set in the local swimming pool at the height of a heatwave. So even if they add little to the plot or themes, the eye-catching musical sequences offer explosions of colour and energy that bring New York's Caribbean subculture bristling to life.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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