"In The Heights" Is The Movie Musical You've Been Waiting For
On June 14th, 2021, I went to my local movie theater for the first time in nearly a year and a half, and the film I chose to see was Lin-Manuel Miranda's long awaited musical, In The Heights. As someone who has been a huge fan of the original Broadway production since 2016, I was ecstatic to finally see one of my favorite musicals play out on the big screen. I could've just streamed it on HBO Max, but there's just something so wonderful about going to the cinema, and In The Heights is definitely one of those movies that needs to be seen in a theater. Like I expected, the movie was an absolute marvel and I couldn't let the moment pass to tell the world about how incredible this film was.
While it does have its occasional faults, my first watch of In The Heights was filled with nothing but sheer amazement. All of the big musical numbers are so well choreographed and everyone from the leads down to the extras were putting 1000% effort into their performances. You could tell just how much passion and hard work went into creating this film. As someone who found In The Heights through the initial Broadway production I was expecting it to take a while for me to get used to the new actors in these familiar roles but I'm happy to say I fell in love with these performers by the time their first songs were over. I think I actually preferred Anthony Ramos as Usnavi more than Lin-Manuel Miranda, who in this film played the Piragua Man rather than the main role. Ever since Hamilton was exposed to the world on a much larger scale when the Disney+ recording came out, the majority opinion among viewers is that Lin-Manuel Miranda is pretty much the worst technical singer in any cast he's in. He's always been a writer first so I don't really blame him, however I was pleasantly surprised to find out that his singing had greatly improved for the movie. The cast pretty much had no weak singers throughout the entire runtime, which is a rare feat when it comes to movie musicals. (I'm looking at you, Russell Crowe). Some of my favorites among the cast were Anthony Ramos, Leslie Grace, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Olga Merediz who I was thrilled to see reprising her Broadway role as Abuela Claudia.
I'll admit, at first I was surprised to see that John M. Chu was to be directing In The Heights rather than Lin-Manuel Miranda, especially since he's the original creator who has showcased his directing chops before. However, I think Chu did an excellent job at bringing the feel of Broadway to the silver screen.
What newer fans might not know is that In The Heights has never been just a musical, it's an outspoken declaration of Latino pride. Back when it first premiered on Broadway in 2008, In The Heights was the first ever major production to feature an entirely latino/hispanic cast. Lin-Manuel Miranda and company singlehandedly brought the culture of Washington Heights to the masses. So while the 2021 movie has been met with its fair share of praise, it has faced an almost equal amount of criticism from fans old and new. Not long after its release, Miranda and the rest of the crew have come under fire for accusations of colorism. Although In The Heights is filled to the brim with Latino representation, viewers take issue with the films lack of Afro-Latino cast members. Washington Heights, Manhattan has a large number of Afro-Latino residents whom are not given as much recognition as audiences hoped. Actor, Corey Hawkins is the only black cast member in the film.
Aside from an obvious lack of Afro-Latino representation, that's not the only criticism I personally have of John M. Chu's film. The first being the most obvious, In The Heights is simply just way too long. Clocking in at 143 minutes, the film, tends to overstay its welcome. There are a lot of songs from the stage musical that could've been cut or shortened and although many songs were, the pacing was still too slow. On top of that, the writers decided to cut out the plot point of Abuela Claudia winning the lottery which I didn't understand at all. Without Abuela winning the money, the big musical number "96,000" serves basically no purpose. I have no idea why the writers would want to cut such a heartfelt and integral part of the story, surely a few minor songs could've been sacrificed for brevity's sake. My second criticism would have to be the occasional over zealous production. Sure, it works for the rambunctious dance numbers and passionate ballads however there's simply no coming down. I found "Paciencia Y Fé" to be particularly egregious, as a song about a woman's transition from life to death I would've liked to see a more toned-down atmosphere. However even the scenes that were too over-the-top in my opinion were still handled very well. No matter the scene, the director made sure the audience had plenty to look at.
Regardless of its flaws, John M. Chu's In The Heights is hands down the best movie musical to come out in recent years. After having to endure failures like Les Misérables, Into The Woods, The Greatest Showman and.....Cats, it feels great to finally get a film that was made with genuine passion and wasn't created purely to sell tickets. If you have the opportunity to get to the movies any time soon I'd highly recommend to check out In The Heights, or if you have HBO Max, stream it as soon as you can. Overall, I'd rate the film a solid 8.5/10 and I can't wait to see what Lin-Manuel Miranda and company have in store for us.