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In the Heights

by on 1 July 2021

Exhausting and Exuberant

In the Heights

by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda

Warner Bros (PG) at Curzon Cinema Mayfair, then Odeon Richmond and Kingston until 15th July, then nationwide.

Review by Heather Moulson

On my way to West End and the historic Curzon cinema, I had mixed feelings about going to see In the Heights.  This musical film, a mastermind of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s, had a lot to live up to after his hugely successful Hamilton.    Set in the predominately black and Latino neighbourhood of Washington Heights in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, this is presented as a seemingly blissful area with synchronised fire hydrants, impromptu barbecues and celebrations on the street.   However exhausting this all is, most scenes are fresh and exuberant: not to mention colourful.  Against the background of a New York heatwave and cusp of a Fourth of July blackout, all kinds of goings-on are featured in this small community.   The writer himself weaves in and out of the story, playing an ice-cream seller with a cart.   

Real issues are raised amongst this vibrant backdrop, such as gentrification and diversity.   Anthony Ramos, who played Hamilton’s son on Broadway, takes the lead role Usnavi, who runs his own shop. Usnavi (his father was a sailor) is close to his cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), but he dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic.   Meanwhile his paramour, Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), clings onto her own dream to become a fashion designer and to leave her job at the hair salon that is being priced out of the neighbourhood (the most detailed and best musical sequence).   She also yearns to leave The Heights and her frustration is palpable.  However, this area is presented so idyllically, it takes away the impetus of the story.   

The other leading lady, Nina (Leslie Grace), returns to the ‘hood’ after planning to drop out of Stanford University.  Despite getting a scholarship, she feels she cannot leave The Heights.  Jimmy Smits, West Wing favourite, as her sacrificing father, gives a credible performance emphasising that there are real human stories against this blindingly dazzling backdrop. 

Intricately choreographed, the many numbers are enriched and colourful, making the audience feel good – or at least optimistic.   The stunning scene in which Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina dance up the side of the building is not only reminiscent of Batman and Robin, but of La La Land.   

Furiously paced and exuberant film, but my, one does leave the auditorium feeling drained! 

Heather Moulson, July 2021

Photography by Ewan Munro and courtesy of © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

From → Cinema and Film

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