In the Heights Review: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical becomes movie

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Lin-Manuel Miranda made a name for himself with his Broadway musical Hamilton. However, the one that started it all for him was In the Heights, a musical set in a predominantly Dominican neighborhood of New York City’s Washington Heights. Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) adapts the musical for the small and big screen, and it’s an upbeat and topical film about an immigrant community featuring Miranda’s signature style of music.

The film follows Anthony Ramos (Hamilton, A Star Is Born) as Usnavi de la Vega, the owner of a bodega saving money for a better life. He’s joined by an ensemble cast, with the film connecting different characters together in a neighborhood that’s dealing with an impending blackout.

Ramos is charming and sweet and brings his lyrical and singing talents to the project. Melissa Barrera dazzles as Vanessa, an aspiring fashion designer and Vega’s love interest. The other two lovebirds are Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace), each with their own desires and past. Olga Merediz reprises her Broadway role as Abuela Claudia, a loving figure who brings a touch of brightness and sadness to her performance. For the most part, there’s a lot of depth to each of the characters on the screen, giving extra weight to each of them.

Credit: Macall Polay/Warner Bros.

The main reason many will be watching In The Heights will be the songs and dances, and there’s plenty of them from hip-hop to Latin to musical theater. Miranda’s signature lyrics and beats are here, and they are energetic and lively. From Merediz’s “Paciencia Y Fe” to the cast’s “96,000,” the music is moving and vibrant.

The film was shot in Washington Heights, and the neighborhood and community feel inviting. There is one scene that is very imaginative; Corey Hawkins and Leslie Grace have a number as they dance on the side of a building. Other than that, the film keeps things grounded, with the visual flair coming from the dancing and choreography and the number of dancers on the screen. “The Club” is an exciting scene featuring Ramos and Barrera competing for each other’s attention as they perform salsa dancing.

Over a decade after the musical first hit the stage, In the Heights remains to be a poignant reminder of the struggles of the immigrant experience. Although the film isn’t breaking new grounds, it’s still an entertaining feature with Miranda’s joyous, hopeful, and energetic music.

Score: 4/5 Atoms

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