No new movie is more deserving of a big screen than “In the Heights.”
The wow-inducing film adaptation of the stage musical — Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-“Hamilton” Broadway hit — is now the next great movie musical. Vibrantly combining cinematic spectacle and musical feast, it’s the perfect film for those who’ve longed to experience a movie in a theater again. Opening in cinemas Friday, it’s also streaming on HBO Max.
The celebratory “In the Heights” happens one summer in an immigrant community in New York City. Director Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians”) and his filmmaking crew glide from vast production numbers featuring hundreds of singers and dancers to intimate scenes that highlight the struggles and aspirations of a specific but universal set of characters.
Everything begins on a Washington Heights morning. The film introduces most of its principally Latino characters in the masterfully conceived and staged song-and-dance production number, “In the Heights.” Hope for a better life propels the barrio’s vivid residents.
Adapted by Quiara Alegría Hudes from the Tony-winning musical she co-wrote with Miranda, “In the Heights” focuses on Usnavi, a young bodega owner who longs to return to the Dominican Republic; Vanessa, a traffic-stopping beauty who’s frustrated by her failed attempts to penetrate the city’s fashion industry; Benny, a cab company dispatcher who loves the boss’ daughter; and Nina, the college student who’s home in the Heights for the summer.
In addition to the romantically linked characters above, the film gives poignant screen time to Abuela Claudia, the neighborhood woman who, having no children of her own, is matriarch to the entire block. Olga Merediz, a Tony winner for her Broadway portrayal of Claudia, reprises her role in the film, joining another veteran performer, Jimmy Smits, who plays Nina’s father, Kevin Rosario, operator of the cab company where Benny works.
Anthony Ramos plays Usnavi, who also serves as the film’s affable narrator.
“It’s the story of a block that was disappearing,” Usnavi says, referring to the demographic changes that gentrification brings to the block. “The streets were made of music.”
Miranda’s beautiful songs and razor-sharp rap and hip-hop spring from the sidewalks, streets, homes and shops of Washington Heights. The songs are beautifully sung, especially by female cast members Merediz, Leslie Grace as Nina and Melissa Barrera as Vanessa.
In classic Broadway style, Miranda’s lyrics illuminate the musical’s characters and story. “Benny’s Dispatch,” sung by Corey Hawkins as Benny, achingly expresses the torch he carries for Nina even as he’s busy dispatching cabs. “Breathe,” Grace’s opening song as Nina, establishes the love Nina has for the barrio that loves her in return and the pain she endured during her freshman year at a prestigious university.
“In the Heights” creator Miranda appears in the movie in a supporting role as a pushcart operator selling piragua (shaved ice). This spectacular movie version of his first Broadway musical seems certain to add Oscars to the Pulitzer Prize and Tony, Emmy and Grammy Awards he's previously won.
As convenient as streaming is, the capacious exuberance of “In the Heights" is best experienced on the biggest movie screen in town.
‘IN THE HEIGHTS’
STARRING: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera and Jimmy Smits
DIRECTED BY: Jon M. Chu
NOW SHOWING: At AMC Mall of La. 15, AMC Baton Rouge 16, Cinemark Perkins Rowe and XD, Movie Tavern Citiplace, Movie Tavern Juban Crossing (Denham Springs), Malco Gonzales Cinema; and streaming on HBO Max
RUNNING TIME: 2 hrs., 23 mins.
MPAA RATING: Rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
WHY IS THIS MOVIE RATED PG-13? For some language and suggestive references
Excellent (****), Good (***), Fair (**), Poor (*)