In the Heights

I had a choice today. I could have either watched Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new film, In the Heights, on HBO Max or I could go to see it at Cinemark, preferably on the IMAX screen. I have enjoyed the HBO Max films that release day and date as the theater, but I thought that with the intricate dancing and choreography involved in the musical, I might enjoy this more on the big screen. Because of that, I decided to head to Cinemark to watch the movie.

I made the right chocie.

In the Heights is the story of a group men and women living in Washington Heights, a neighborhood on the northern tip of Manhattan. The ensemble took us through the joys and the struggles of this community of heavily Latino descent. At the center of the movie is a bodega owner Usnavy (Anthony Ramos) who watched over the matriarch of the neighborhood, the aging Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz).

There are a ton of storylines going on during the film, and each one gets a reasonable focus during the 2 hour and 23 minute run time. These stories vary for each character, but they are all done very well and intersperse nicely.

However, the biggest part of the movie is the music from Lin-Manuel Miranda, which is nearly going on through the entire movie. There are very few breaks from the music. The music is incredibly catchy and it is almost impossible to keep yourself from swaying or moving with it. Much like Miranda’s other iconic show, Hamilton, the lyrics of the songs are witty, sharp and brilliant in storytelling, but go very fast so it can be difficult to follow at times. I can imagine that it would require several viewings (or times listening) to catch all of the clever lyrical lines within the songs. Despite this, the music does an admirable job of conveying the story, especially the emotion of the moment.

There are some excellent performances here, with a couple specific performances standing out. Olga Merediz, who reprised her role as Abuela Claudia from the stage play, is utterly brilliant as Washington Heights’ heart and soul. She had received a Tony Award in 2008 for the role and I do believe that she will have an Oscar nomination in her future as well. She provided, arguably, the most powerfully emotional song and moment of the entire movie.

Jimmy Smits was another top notch performance as Kevin Rosario, a father and businessman willing to do anything for his daughter Nina (Leslie Grace). Grace is another standout here as she was simply a vision every time she was on screen. It was difficult taking my eyes off of her which tells me that she has ‘it.’

The dance choreography is unbelievable with several massive scale dance numbers. Christopher Scott is the choreographer on the film and he does a masterful job. The cinematography is also masterful from Alice Brooks. In the Heights is directed by Jon M. Chu.

Sometimes the narrative gets lost in the music, but it is such a minor quip from me that I do not even want to go into it. There is a natural vibrancy to the film and the music is entertaining, engulfing the audience in a world within this neighborhood in New York, a neighborhood where Lin-Manuel Miranda grew up in, bringing us the experience with great emotion and amazing visual images.

If you can, see this on the biggest screen you can. It is worth it.

5 stars

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