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Review: ‘In the Heights’ is a Spectacular Movie Musical with Something for Everyone

June 9, 2021Ben MK

For some artists, duplicating the critical and commercial success of their most popular creation might seem like a daunting challenge. If you're composer and songwriter extraordinaire Lin-Manuel Miranda, however, following up his smash Broadway hit Hamilton with the big screen adaptation of his first musical seems like just another walk in Central Park — and it's a joy-filled journey that fans of musicals and non-musicals alike will most definitely want to take.

Set in the sweltering summertime heat of New York City, In the Heights chronicles the ups and downs of a group of friends living in the working class immigrant community known as Washington Heights. There's Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who came from the Dominican Republic when he was eight-years-old and who now runs a bodega with his younger cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV); Usnavi's good friend Benny (Cory Hawkins) works as a dispatcher at the cab company owned by Kevin (Jimmy Smits), whose daughter Nina (Leslie Grace) has just returned home after a disappointing freshman year at Stanford; and then there's Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), a nail technician whose credit score is the only obstacle preventing her from moving downtown to pursue a career in fashion design.

What unifies all these characters, however, is the fact that they each have a goal that they're striving for. And for Usnavi, who longs to return to the Dominican Republic to resurrect his dad's old beachfront bar, it's the one thing that inspires him to get up each morning and open up the bodega for business, even if the fridge inside has broken down and all the milk inside has gone bad. His beloved Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), on the other hand, only dreams of winning the lottery. But as the neighborhood's resident matriarch, who literally spent decades toiling away at a thankless job, even that seems like small consolation for all those years of blood, sweat and tears.

Suffice to say, the ensemble cast is fantastic all around, but of course it's the expertly staged musical set-pieces that really makes In the Heights something special. Fortunately for fans of Miranda's Tony Award-winning Broadway production, everything comes together spectacularly under the watchful eyes of director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) and choreographer Christopher Scott (So You Think You Can Dance). From the head-spinning opening number featuring virtually every member of the cast, to the solo performances from Grace and Barrera's characters, it's impossible to pick a single sequence that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

It all adds up to an unforgettable experience. Whether you're a die-hard fan of old-school movie musicals like The Sound of Music and West Side Story or you prefer the genre's new wave of films, such as La La Land and The Greatest Showman, the result truly has something for everyone. Even viewers who might not consider themselves song-and-dance aficionados will have a hard time resisting In the Heights' infectious charm.

In the Heights releases June 11th, 2021 from Warner Bros. Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for some language and suggestive references. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 23 min.

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