We all go to the movies for various reasons. Some love the fear and horror, some love thrillers or animation, and then there is the sheer joy of seeing a movie that just makes you smile and want to dance and “IN THE HEIGHTS” is that movie. With it’s joyful incredible large-scaled choreographed dancing and singing, Heights is a cinematic treat for your eyes and ears as well. There has never been a more perfect time to release this film until now in the Summer! baby! Summer! On the serious side, this is an important film for all and it is what we all need as well in our lives, a bit of music, dance, joy and a story about life and a dream.
Starting us off in the way up the A train line in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights lives twenty-something Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a dreamer whose pursuit of that dream is to go beyond the corner bodega store he owns and works at, and head back to the Dominican Republic to re-open the bar his dad once owned. The barrio portrayed here is chock full of colorful characters from all parts of life and the world. Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), the always-wise, all-knowing, grandmotherly figure of the barrio; Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), is a young, beautiful, vibrant and optimistic woman with a strong desire to become a fashion designer, along with nail salon owner and queen of neighborhood gossip circle Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega). Lastly is Usnavi’s younger cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), who has ambitions beyond his somewhat slacker style as behind it all, is a quick, highly intelligent young man. And of course there is Benny (Corey Hawkins), best friend to Usnavi, and dispatcher at the local neighborhood service run by the neighborhood’s oldest business owner, Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits). Benny meanwhile is thinking he might be promoted and is working towards opening his own business as well. Returning home on that one hot, sweltering July morning is Nina (Leslie Grace), who’s dropped out of Stanford despite the neighborhood’s awe of her being the only one to get away. Her father has been finagling the finances at the cab company to keep Nina at the college, though there are deeper underlying issues that soon surface.
The adaptation, as one would assume, had to alter from the stage production but that job is done by none other than Quiara Alegria Hudes, who penned the musical’s book. Three-time Emmy nominee Christopher Scott really brings the musical numbers to life through such exquisite choreography that you can get lost in. At one point realizing just the enormity of this production and how many people are involved in some of the larger dance scenes left me in awe. In the director’s chair is Jon M. Chu, and his skills shine in this enchanting tale of unity, community and following your dreams, wherever and however they might end up. The music supervisor here is none other than Steve Gizicki, an old personal friend of some 20+ years and he does a fantastic job here.
It’s the little things of ‘In The Heights’ as well. If you’ve ever had a true neighborhood Abuelas’ food then you understand how here, you can almost smell and taste her cooking straight from the film. Or the dancing ~ you feel as though you are there doing the cha cha salsa dancing with them, and trust me, it is no easy feat to dance like that, most especially the ladies part. And if you didn’t feel right at home in the nail salon, well then you my friends, are going to the wrong nail salon. While one or two musical numbers might have stretched and went a bit too long, and it’s also possible the second act feels like it drags a bit here and there in comparison to the first and third acts, these things are minor nit picking as all in all, it’s just truly a very entertaining watch. Lengthy as it is, it’s truly a 2 hour 24 minutes love story. But not just a love story in the traditional sense, but a love story about a city, a place, a time and about it’s people. The senses of it all you can taste, feel and smell – all through the music and dance.
The acting and dancing is out of this world, though I did NOT know Jimmy Smits was a singer! While everyone is shooing Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera and Gregory Diaz IV as the new faces to follow, to put Anthony Ramos as being in that category as well is just a bit on the incorrect side, as he has been putting in the good work since Monsters and Men in 2018, and can we say A Star Is Born co-star anyone? But enough with the young stars as they have wonderful careers ahead of them and were all sensational here. But a standout here that many seem to overlook is our Abuela herself, Olga Merediz, as she is simply wonderful here in her supporting role and I truly hope she is not forgotten about during supporting nomination time, just because she didn’t sing and dance up a storm, she held this group together like a true neighborhood Abuela.
No matter the tiny criticisms, there’s something truly radiating about the film’s vibrancy and joyful enthusiasm – which is, frankly, what we all need right now. And do yourself one last favour before you leave, stay for the post-credit scene.
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Review Screening: Monday, January 7, 2021 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.
“IN THE HEIGHTS” OPENS IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE AND ON HBO MAX ON FRIDAY, JUNE 11, 2021