In the Heights Movie Review
In the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical In the Heights, a young man dreaming of returning to the Dominican Republic to open a beachside bar sets his sights on the sexy, fashion industry-aspiring girl next door, only to find himself even more smitten with his friend’s graffiti art. Go figure.
Lively and full of colorful characters, In the Heights is an injection of pure energy, a fun, inspirational, and easy-to-enjoy musical featuring a cast of extremely good-looking people and creative rap-infused songs that cater to all generations.
Starring Anthony Ramos as Usnavi, Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, Leslie Grace as Nina, and Corey Hawkins as Benny, In the Heights pulses to its own beat while putting on display a melting pot of multicultural charisma. The cast has a seemingly natural chemistry with one another. They’re also given few moments to breathe as Miranda, who wrote the music, Quiara Alegria Hudes (screenplay), and director John M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), keep the pace fast and furious.
In that vein, In the Heights bears similarities to Miranda’s Hamilton. Both feature diverse casts, creative music, and forward-leaning momentum that rarely lets up. In the Height does stumble after the penultimate and foreshadowed blackout, however; after Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) delivers her powerful solo, the rest of the characters seem to lose their way for much of the second act before finally clicking back into gear leading up to the climax.
If anything, In the Heights is over-stuffed with characters, which may work on the stage but not quite so well in movie theaters. The film spends a bit too much time with random supporting characters you don’t really get to or need to know (do we care that Daniela, played by the spirited Daphne Rubin-Vega, is moving out of the neighborhood?), which comes at the expense of the central cast. The relationship between Usnavi and Vanessa is the biggest victim; in one moment, they’re each storming off in their own direction at the end of their first date (usually not a good sign), but in the next all seems to be forgotten.
Of course, when Vanessa finally finds her inspiration and excitedly shows Usnavi her fashion collection, he seems more interested in his pal’s graffiti. So, not everything makes sense.
In the Heights has some false conflict, too, like Nina grappling with returning to Stanford at the expense of her father’s savings and livelihood (simple solution: she could go to a cheaper college). But that’s a given with musical adaptations.
And in the end, In the Heights is a fantastic musical adaptation. Inspiring, creative, and fun to watch, the movie is a celebration of life and pursuing your dreams. And really, really, really appreciating graffiti.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.