REVIEW: Get in the theater for ‘In the Heights’

“In the Heights” is an appropriate name for this film and the stage production its based on.

Not only because it takes place in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, but also because it’s an experience that earns high scores.

The film is set in a Latin community and follows several characters, but the main focus is on Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a bodega owner who dreams of reopening his late father’s beachside business in the Dominican Republic. One of the regular customers to Usnavi’s shop is Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), a young woman working at a salon who wants to pursue a career in fashion.

Early in the film, Usnavi and Vanessa meet up with Nina (Leslie Grace), a Stanford University student whose father owns a taxi company. That company is where Benny (Corey Hawkins), who has relationship history with Nina, works. The four of them spend time with others in the neighborhood and try to navigate their futures during a heat wave across New York City.

“In the Heights” is a powerful, moving and compelling musical, rich with heart and character. The lead protagonists are lively while each song featured exudes passion and personality.

The music from Lin-Manuel Miranda is an enjoyable blend, mixing genres from rap to salsa, that advances the stories for all of the characters. It succeeds at hooking an audience in, as does the immense dance choreography in several of the scenes.

The sequence featuring the song “96,000,” for example, takes place at a pool and is huge in scale and scope. So much is going on with the dancing as each character expresses their dreams through the music.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

The movie does run into a few stumbling blocks that break its stride, though. One of them is the film’s framing device. The film features Usnavi telling the story of these summer days to a group of kids on a beach front.

Aside from a few humorous moments, the narration and framing device aren’t integral to the overall film and could have been dropped.

Another issue is the film’s length. It’s true there are a lot of characters to get to here, but still, the two and a half hour runtime starts to be felt after a while.

Fortunately. the film continues to win an audience over whenever one might be thinking at checking the time. The musical energy generated from scene to scene carries this movie over the finish line.

As does its dedication to shining a spotlight on themes of heritage, culture, the importance of community and pursing the American Dream. The highlighting of these aspects lend more strength to the overall picture.

“In the Heights” is pleasing to both the eyes and the ears. It’s a crowd pleasing musical that’s worth seeing in the cinema. 4.25 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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