In the Heights is a decent musical adaptation, but a great summer movie

In the Heights improves and falls short of the source material, but the end product still fits perfectly in the summer of 2021.

For a year now, lovers of musicals have been waiting, with patience and faith as Abuela might say, for the release of In the heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s film adaptation of the premiereHamilton The Broadway hit was scheduled to air on June 26, 2020, but was delayed due to COVID-19. While the answer probably wouldn’t have been drastically different anyway, it’s easier to appreciate. In the heights now. After 16 months of shared fears, frustrations, and disappointments as Broadway darkened, Miranda’s modest and serious but relentlessly cheerful and hopeful story seems relevant in a new and unexpected way. In the heights isn’t a perfect or even particularly well-thought-out adaptation of a musical, but it’s a great summer movie nonetheless, and particularly apt for the summer of 2021.

While the filmed production of Hamilton who lives on Disney + is as close to seeing the original cast as one can get for $ 7.99, the In the heights is most definitely its own thing. Director Jon M. Chu, best known for Crazy Rich Asians, makes choices that improve the source material and others that seem to lose track. For most of Hollywood history, musicals like The sound of music and West Side Story have been redone quite simply (and have generally won many awards). In recent years, directors have tried to impose framing devices and other gadgets on them, to make the breaking of the belts and the fourth wall more believable. Sometimes it works (Chicago), sometimes not (Cats). In the heights half-heartedly attempts such a framing device, and unfortunately the accompanying one is quite cliché. Usnavi, the protagonist, begins and ends the film by telling his story to a group of incredibly attentive children.

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From there, things start to become more familiar to anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing the stage production. Chu’s films frequently feature dance, and without the constraints of a proscenium, the choreography is free to be as exuberant and festive as possible. Beautifully composed aerial shots make all of the movement easier to capture, while sweaty close-ups make everything more human and tactile. It’s a tricky trick to pull off. The same goes for retaining the sense of urgency and ever-increasing tension that theatergoers feel about real time and space. In this regard, In the heights is random.

The show has to stay on its corner, but the film has the freedom to explore the entire neighborhood, inside and out. Chu does an admirable job bringing the Usnavi bodega, Daniela’s living room and Abuela’s apartment to life. There is a realism and, more importantly, an intimacy in these scenes that cannot pass from the perspective of even a front row seat. Corn In the heights really sing and dance when he takes the block, park or pool, with 500 enthusiastic extras to get the party started. Manuel’s clearly very personal play is as much about time and place as it is about the people who live then and there, and the film does that idea justice. It looks, sounds, tastes, smells and sounds like summer in Washington Heights so specifically and intensely that you’ll want to step out of the multiplex to light a pipe, blow up a radio, and throw ice in a blender.

It should also be noted that while plays and films about black and Latin communities previously existed In the heights, they didn’t always sound authentic, and their castings didn’t always include the people they sought to represent. Some observers familiar with the film’s titular quarter have expressed frustration that it is still insufficient, especially in its lack of proportional Afro-Latinx representation. Yet the diversity and pride displayed in In the heights Distinguishes it from most of what came before it, as does the representation of working class families, which completely avoids exploitation. Overall, many people will recognize themselves in this more accessible version of Miranda’s art, and in the performances of Anthony Ramos and the company, which are as tender as they are technically impressive. Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia is the star and will be a serious contender for the Supporting Actress Awards.

Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera from In the Heights

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In the heights fails in his plot handling, which shouldn’t come as a big surprise, as plot was never the stronghold of the musical. The original – which ostensibly deals with what young children in love are going to do with their lives, but actually deals with gentrification and the intricacies of racism – was already a little curvy but overloaded. The film, with its ability to focus its audience, could have tightened things up. It’s certainly a revision with major character and event changes, but it’s not a very bold or focused change. Most tinkering only decreases the tension, lowers the stakes, and slows the pace. In particular, the addition of a new subplot involving the potential deportation of Dreamers is well-intentioned but nailed in place. Ultimately, In the heights plays more like a truly fantastic 2.5-hour music video that doesn’t quite reach the heights it aspires to.

This is even more true because Miranda and Chu didn’t seem to make any firm and quick decisions about the realism or impressionism of the final product. About half of the film favors naturalism, while the other half embraces the kind of magic that allows gravity-defying dance numbers on the sides of tall buildings. But it’s good. Point of In the heights isn’t really about telling a story. The goal is to remind ourselves of our dignity and the dignity of others, and to cherish the people and everyday things that give meaning to our lives. Whether you experience it in the comfort of your home on HBO Max, or in the comfort of an air-conditioned theater with – after all this time – a crowd, this is the perfect way to start your summer and reignite your optimism. .

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