This summer gets off to a great start thanks to In The Heights. The newest musical to hit the big screen and HBO Max is the perfect musical to help audiences forget 2019’s Cats. Adapted from the stage musical of the same name, In The Heights follows the dreamers living in Washington Heights, New York. Each of them dealing with their own hardships, aspirations and relationships. The paths of each character intertwine over the course of several days during an increasingly hot summer in The Heights.
The movie unfolds as Usnavi, the film’s main character, tells the story of a particularly hot summer in Washington Heights to a group of young children. Anthony Ramos plays Usnavi. While he may not be a household name yet, he certainly will be. His charisma and energy elevate every scene he’s in; like a young John Leguizamo. He sings, dances and performs in a way that feels impossibly natural. And he’s not the only standout.
The cast is filled with talent at every turn. Melissa Barrera plays Vanessa, Usnavi’s love interest with dreams of being a fashion designer. The character of Vanessa is a two sided coin. To those around her she is fun loving and flirtatious; but when alone she is saddened and dreaming of a future that seems out of reach. Barrera proves her range, switching between the character’s public persona and private struggles with ease.
A musical’s success or failure hinges primarily on the music within the story. Here, In The Heights, soars. Every song (and there’s a lot of them) stands on its own. The musical numbers are worked into the story at nearly every turn. But, each song serves a purpose; none feel forced or out of place. The emotional impact of the songs is undeniable. At one moment viewers will be tapping their feet and smiling from ear to ear; a moment later they’ll be frozen in their seat with tears in their eyes.
The film is beautiful in every way. The choreography of the dance numbers draws the viewers eyes to the screen and holds them there. They are large, unique and fill the screen. The colors are vibrant. Editing is especially important with a film like this. To ensure that the words of the songs and the steps of the dances flow seamlessly from one cut to another is no easy task. And yet In The Heights accomplishes this perfectly.
El Suenito. This phrase which refers to a “little dream” is the heart and soul of the film. Each character has dreams and aspirations, hopes and goals. Usnavi dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic to run his family’s business. Vanessa dreams of starting her own fashion line. The film never strays from exploring these goals and how the inhabitants of Washington Heights struggle to achieve them.
In The Heights is a perfect example of how to adapt a stage musical for the screen. Watching this movie reminding me of watching West Side Story for the first time as a child. It was a magical moment and I knew it was a movie that I would never forget. And while the film does have similarities to West Side Story, it is undoubtedly its own unique story. A runtime of nearly two and a half hours may be intimidating to some viewers; however, this is two and a half hours well spent. The film flies by, feeling much shorter than it actually is. It is a heartwarming experience that is much needed in the world today and my favorite movie of the year thus far. 10/10