Director Jon M Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) directs this adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway debut, which examines the Latin-American community in the gentrifying Washington Heights district in New York. The various and numerous storylines meander around; their cracks covered with decent tunes and colourful choreography. But it's still an undeniably dazzling, if overly long, return to that form of cinematic spectacle.
Everyone has high aspirations in Washington Heights: you can’t walk two blocks without ‘bumping into someone’s big dreams’. The narrator Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) is a bodega owner who wants to move back to the Dominican Republic. His infuriating love-interest Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) wants to be a fashion designer downtown, but keeps being side-lined. Stanford student Nina (Leslie Grace) faces alienation from her white colleagues, and considers abandoning her studies.
Meanwhile, many businesses in the community are shifting away or closing completely. In a movie pumped with big, over-the-top musical numbers, the gentrification is subtle by comparison – often occurring in secret.
Chu and author/screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes find magic and music in the mundane. The opening sees Usnavi strolling through Nueva York, hearing hosepipes and manhole covers like they’re integral notes in a busy symphony. You hear, taste, and smell every flavour of this community and their history, via their melodic voices and diverse situations. There’s even a scene that lists important Latina women, including Frida Kahlo.
Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and Vanessa (Melissa Barrera). Photo: Warner Bros.
There’s no concrete plot as such. To be generous, In The Heights is a character-driven milieu, dropping into the everyday lives of those who deserve to be seen. But many of these stories run out of steam in the second half, after which the same beats keep repeating themselves.
The forced will-they-won’t-they between Usnavi and Vanessa grows into an exhausting competition, filled with cringy shows of jealousy and passive-aggressive reactions. There's barely any chemistry between Ramos and Barrera or the characters they play. The constantly evasive Vanessa, in particular, is an unbearably annoying presence despite Barrera's decent performance.
In The Heights is saved somewhat by Nina’s story, as her father (played by Jimmy Smits) goes to extreme lengths to pay her college tuition. Within their tricky relationship, you’re given an insight into the pressures that many Latina women (and women of colour in general) feel on their shoulders: to represent, to progress, and to achieve.
Why isn’t Nina the main focus of the
film? Do we really need another song-and-dance with Usnavi and Vanessa? At least Nina eases you through a superfluous 140-minute runtime. But at this point, one
should probably be grateful for any minutes at the cinema. And In The
Heights – despite its faults – graces that big screen wonderfully.
In The Heights will be in UK cinemas on Friday 18 June
|What||In The Heights review|
18 Jun 21 – 18 Jun 22, IN CINEMAS
|Price||£ determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|