Lin-Manuel Miranda has become one the most respected and influential artists in the world over the last decade. This is largely because of his phenomenal hip-hop retelling of America’s founding in a little musical called ‘Hamilton’. Yet, that was not the first musical Mr. Miranda had won a plethora of Tony Awards for. No, his first major splash into the limelight came with his very personal play about the Latino community in the Washington Heights portion of New York. Now, ‘In The Heights’ is a major motion picture, and it is easily the most alive a movie has been in theaters in over a year!
From the opening moments of this musical treat to its heart-soaring conclusion, you will want to stand up and dance in the aisle. The audience of film critics I watched the film with literally clapped after several musical numbers. They are just so damn good that it’s really hard not applaud something so amazing. In the original production, Miranda himself played the lead role of Usnavi, but that was 13 years ago and he is a much older man. So, his ‘Hamilton’ co-star Anthony Ramos has taken the reigns in the movie and he carries it like a badge of honor.
The other major players in this story are also exceptionally well acted, danced, and sang by a talented group of young stars. Leslie Grace plays Nina, Corey Hawkins is Benny, and Melissa Barrera fills the final lead role of Vanessa. These characters might all feel like caricatures in another film, but here the music gives us insight into their thoughts and dreams. Which is really what this movie is all about. Dreams. Hopes. Aspirations. And what it takes to get their as a minority in America.
In many ways, this story has universal appeal. We all have dreams. However, the core of this story is all about the Latino immigrants in Washington Heights. Cubans, Dominicans, Puerto Rican’s, and every other member of the Latin melting pot are represented in this story. And this is their story of struggling to make it in America. This is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s love letter to his community of dreamers and their hard work trying to make it in this country.
Most important, this is not just some simple adaptation of a great musical. John Chu directs the hell out of this story. The dancing is just as wonderful on stage, but you can’t get the same brilliant shots. I knew I was in good hands from the very first dance number. Usnavi finds himself looking out the window of his shop and the streets are alive with dancing in the reflection. It’s a brilliant shot that is followed continuously with more and more clever uses of the motion picture format. Never is it distracting. It’s always used as a way to enhance what’s on the screen and enhance it does.
What was once an unforgettable stage production that a few saw is now a major motion picture that can touch the hearts of millions. Miranda and Chu have crafted a modern musical masterwork that follows beautifully in the footsteps of ‘West Side Story’. How fitting that another great filmmaker will bring us a new version of that story later this year. I look forward to watching it as a double feature with this one for years to come. The musical is back in 2021 and the world is better for it!
On 4K, Blu-ray and DVD August 31st.
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