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In the Heights: An Extremely Fun Musical That Will Put a Smile on Your Face

June 12, 2021

Quick Thoughts: In the Heights is an absolute blast. It puts a smile on your face, and is proof that stage musicals can be successfully translated to the big screen. 

Directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians, Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D), In The Heights kicks off the summer season with a bang. Adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical stage play, and book written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, the film focuses on a group of Washington Heights (the uppermost borough of Manhattan) residents, as they move up in the world, find love, and deal with the gentrification of their neighborhood. In the Heights mostly focuses on Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos), the owner of a bodega, who pines after Vanessa Morales (Melissa Barrera), who works at the local salon owned by Daniella (Daphne Rubin-Vega). Usnavi lives with his “abuela” Claudia (Olga Merediz – so good), and they look after Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), Usnavi’s cousin who also works at the bodega. There are many other characters played by Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Stephanie Beatriz, Jimmy Smits, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Dasha Polanco, who get moments to shine as they sing, dance and look totally comfortable performing.

Chu’s experience directing romances (Crazy Rich Asians), dancing films (Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D), and music videos for Justin Bieber are on full display in this film. The dancing scenes are epic, as they feature 500+ dancers moving in unison in wide shots that are normally reserved for action films. There are Gene Kelly-esque dances scenes, and musical numbers that showcase inspired camerawork by cinematographer Alice Brooks (Jem and the Holograms), who uses windows, walls, and tunnels to maximum effect. All of the musical numbers feel alive and exciting, and it must’ve been a lot of work to corral all of the extras, dancers, and crew for the large dance numbers (the production assistants must’ve been working overtime to lock off the New York City streets). Dance choreographer Christopher Scott (Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D), had his work cut out for him, as the film is stuffed with unique musical numbers that feature staggering amounts of choreography, and they all have to tell a different story. Kudos to Scott for pulling off dance numbers that translate really well to the screen, and making them unique, so they stand apart from each other, and don’t feel like a big blob of dance scenes. Also, the costume design by Mitchell Travers (Hustlers, Eighth Grade, Late Night) is top-notch, as there are a plethora of memorable costumes that should prove to be iconic in years to come. 

Final thoughts: In the Heights is one of my favorite films of 2021 (so far), and I hope it finds a large audience.

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