In the Heights

Warner Bros. 2021 143 min. PG-13

Director: Jon M. Chu

Screenplay: Quiara Alegria Hudes based on  play In the Heights by Quiara Alegria Hudes & Lin-Manuel Miranda

Cinematography: Alice Brooks; Editing: Myron Kerstein; Production Design: Nelson Coates; Art Direction: Brian Goodwin & Chris Shriver; Costumes: Mitchell Travers; Score: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alex Lacamoire & Bill Sherman

Stars: Anthony Ramos (Usnavi de la Vega), Melissa Barrera (Vanessa Morales), Leslie Grace (Nina Rosario), Corey Hawkins (Benny), Olga Merediz (Abuela Claudia), Jimmy Smits (Kevin Rosario), Gregory Diaz IV (Sonny), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Daniela), Stephanie Beatriz (Carla), Dascha Polanco (Cuca), Noah Catala (Graffiti Pete), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Piragua Guy), Mateo Gomez (Alejandro), Marc Anthony (Gapo),  Olivia Perez (Iris de la Vega), Chris Jackson (Mr. Softee Truck Driver)It’s unfortunate that In the Heights, the first (of probably many an upcoming) Lin-Manuel Miranda Tony-winning musical to make it to the big screen, would be released this year, of all years, after being yanked from its original release of June 2020, due to the pandemic. For while the movie’s characters represent a wider diaspora of Caribbean islanders, with a smattering of Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, etc., sprinkled about for diversity, with its similar themes concerning immigrants and it’s New York setting, the movie seems like mere dress rehearsal for Steven Spielberg’s much anticipated remake of West Side Story, due out later this year. After decades of drought for the underrepresented Latino population onscreen, there’s been a sudden cloudburst of activity. And one hopes, with that other major touchstone just around the corner, Hollywood won’t consider its quota complete, and again begin shying away from greenlighting other Hispanic-themed, big screen projects. Especially given In the Heights disappointing performance at the box-office. It’s frustrating that audiences seem to have dismissed it as glorified prelude, greasing the wheels for what’s to come, as if its near simultaneous home release on HBOMax hadn’t already impacted theater turnout enough. This simulcasting on big and small screen, regardless of a film’s scale and scope, may represent the death knell of cinema Martin Scorsese has been warning about. One of the unexpected, long-lasting side effects of COVID, it appears to have permanently altered the way the entertainment industry approaches release and distribution. So, one wonders, moving forward, if there will be ongoing attempts to correlate data between theater attendance and Nielson rating shares from people watching at home, to better reflect how movies are performing with the public at large. Clearly box-office figures alone cannot be relied on to reflect that full array of information any longer. Can the commercial performance of movies like In the Heights really be held against them, when most homebodies haven’t gotten back into the full swing of their pre-pandemic moviegoing habits? And may never again, if the same releases are now made available from the comfort of home. It’s unfair that In the Heights should have to bear the brunt of this new synchronized co-existence between movies and tv. As much as it’s unfair that it should have been eclipsed and suffered from comparisons to a juggernaut like Spielberg. With the vibrant cast of talented newcomers, intermixed with seasoned vets like Jimmy Smits and Olga Merediz, to smooth things along, this musical is strong enough to stand on its own two feet as a major release, one of the most rewarding moviegoing experiences of the year.The quintessence of summer entertainment, with its pool parties, block barbeques, Fourth of July fireworks and blackouts (when overtaxed energy grids can no longer handle the heatwave), In the Heights has been dynamically directed by Jon M. Chu and brilliantly edited by Myron Kerstein. The two worked together on the earlier, vividly imagined Crazy Rich Asians, with its similar explosions of colorfully vibrant, coordinated kinetics. That film smashed long-held industry beliefs by shattering the box-office despite being predominantly cast with actors of Asian descent. And it was hoped a similarly elating sound of ka-ching would, by association, glamour onto the director’s latest release, predominantly cast with members of the LatinX community.In the Heights is a dazzlingly successful adaptation by Quiara Alegria Hudes of the book she and Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote for the breakthrough Broadway smash. And as Hollywood’s splashiest big screen musical since La La Land, it gains in cinematic pizzazz whatever dramatic cohesion has been lost in the transfer from stage to screen. This movie version is a richly realized, delicately textured, eye-popping explosion of bombastic buoyancy. Energetic and uplifting, with a lively, multi-lingual, multi-cultural canvas just waiting to be colored in, it’s been made over into an unabashed love song to the Washington Heights of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s poetic imagination.If a movie can be an auteur piece for its original creator, In the Heights is it. The movie seems more artistically infused by Miranda’s spirit (he wrote the initial draft in college and is credited with the music and lyrics) than anyone else associated with it. It’s his own sincere love for the Heights that comes through loud and clear, permeating the movie and holding the concept together. Situated as the northernmost tip on the subway line, this borough seems like the top of the world to him. And these feelings have been infused into every frame, the same way artists the caliber of Woody Allen and Spike Lee have imbued their own films with their love for New York in the past.And In the Heights captures a side of the barrio we rarely see represented positively onscreen, allowing that slandered word to reclaim its original meaning as ‘neighborhood.’ The movie opens as Anthony Ramos’ Usnavi de la Vega rises from bed in the morning, his community itself slowly awakening and coming to life in time with him, as if they shared the same circulation system. It’s similar to the way Rouben Mamoulian’s innovative musical Love Me Tonight (1932) started, with the sounds of the city forming a rhythmic current of life. Mamoulian used this technique to make the city of Paris seem like a character in his story, same way Miranda does the Heights here.Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace), a Stanford scholarship student, and the pride of the community for having succeeded on such a major level, requests silence several times throughout the film, just so that she can ‘listen’ to her block and draw strength from it, as we hear it same as she does, making its own kind of music, a comforting hum pitched at such a high frequency, only the acclimatized could pick it up. It’s like universal harmony, the music of the spheres. “That song you are hearing,” she’s told, “is the neighborhood cheering you along.”

Few films have so tangibly captured the tight-knit sense of hearth, home, family – community – and what that shared concept means to the various residents, both in its festive collective spirit and messy family ties. Of course, to make this notion work within the film, virtually everyone, apart from Marc Anthony, who plays the dissolute, alcoholic father of Usnavi’s young cousin, Sonny (Gregory Diaz VI), the bag boy at his local bodega, must be idealized just a shade short of perfection. So, in its stylized fashion, In the Height is as dizzyingly untethered from reality as Miranda’s Mary Poppins Returns.We’re proffered an idealized fantasyland that can be nearly surreal in its silliness at times, such as when the bewigged mannequins in the beauty salon join the chorus, like those singing stone busts from The Haunted Mansion. Or when Nina and Benny (Corey Hawkins), the dispatcher at her father’s car service company she rekindles a romance with, defy gravity by dancing up the side of a vertical building (“When the Sun Goes Down”), like Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding. Or Spider-Man. When characters ‘draw’ on screen by creating shapes with their fingers, the images they’re making are visualized for us, as if we were watching them Etch-A-Sketch ideas in the air.Within the context of the movie’s own bubblegum flavored, musical theater memory, one is willing to let the Disneyfication slide, since the world as the film sees it, is purposely meant to be filtered through the poetic imaginations of its leads. The musical sequences are sifted through the eyes of the neighborhood characters, the same way they were Roxie Hart in Chicago (2002), so it’s understandable that things would seem so fanciful, refracted as they are through the prism of rose-colored glasses.As Usnavi states, he wants to see the world through the eyes of unattainable beautician Vanessa Morales (Melissa Barrera), who dreams of becoming a high-end fashion designer. He’s loved her for years but, like Benny, never had the courage to romantically pursue his dream girl. Later Alice Brook’s camera will literally spiral out of Vanessa’s iris, like Raven-Symoné’s, back when she used to have visions on the Disney channel. It’s confirmation that we’re being shown only the most highly subjective, idealized view of things.

Droopy-eyed lead Anthony Ramos has been plastered with a spray of freckles, a permanent expression of bedazzlement with the world around him, and an outsized overbite that imparts an appropriately reticent, rabbitty impression. He gives a performance that’s impressively sensitive (when acting), sensual and athletic (when dancing), in addition to funny and informative (when singing/rapping large chunks of the dialogue/lyrics). Ramos has been slowly and steadily insinuating himself into the public consciousness the last few years. Among other things, he played Lady Gaga’s bff in A Star is Born, where he didn’t get to sing a single song, appeared in Spike Lee’s Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It and is nominated for a Supporting Emmy for the filmed version of Hamilton. In addition, he gave a fantastic performance as the intimidated witness to an extrajudicial killing, in Reinaldo Marcus Green’s 2018 omnibus Monsters and Men. And he’s been ubiquitous in those Casino Royal whiskey commercials that laid the groundwork for his current character, by stressing the importance of neighborhood to him, maintaining his roots and family ties. Through such well-placed public ads, one had already grown accustomed to seeing Ramos in the same sorts of settings and situations he’s engaging in onscreen here. And after such grooming, he can’t help but rise to the occasion in the star-making part he’s been handed, the sort that struggling young actors dream of.His Usnavi succinctly embodies the movie’s larger concepts about one’s place in the world, the importance of hearth and home to uprooted immigrants, refugees, migrants, and what makes home a home for the permanently displaced. Just as Usnavi resembles his father, who wears a similar flat cap in those photographs we see of him, Ramos himself looks much like the young Lin-Manuel Miranda, who originated this part in the Broadway production. So much so, that the character is clearly meant to serve as proxy, a voice box expressing the musical wunderkind’s own pre-Hamilton thoughts and feelings about what America means to him, pride in his community and patriotic spirit. So, we’re really seeing things through the eyes of Miranda himself, his original, graffiti art inspired vision for the story, as translated through the music in Usnavi’s heart. His expressive, prismatic production design has been beautified by Graffiti Pete’s (Noah Catala) spray cans, full of colors which keep our eyes attuned and our senses hopping.For his part, Miranda, who was so good as the semi-mystical lamp lighter in Mary Poppins Returns, standing in place of Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep, hardly figures in his own musical. As good as Ramos is, it’s odd that Miranda wasn’t cast in the lead himself. Surely, it couldn’t have been believed, during the cattle calls, that dreams like the one Usnavi harbors, of returning to the Dominican Republic to reopen his father’s tiki bar, were the exclusive province of the young. Not given the variety of dreams we’re offered insight into over the course of the movie, from people of all ages and walks of life.Rather than reprising his Usnavi, Miranda has instead been recast in the minor role of the Piragüero, a glorified Greek chorus, whose cart appears sporadically about the Heights, swirling like an artist’s palette with bottles of food coloring for his shaved ice desserts. Overseeing all the action as he does, one can console themselves that at least Miranda’s vicinity to the production allowed him to offer his input, ensuring the movie retained the proper ambiance for a story about immigrants, DREAMers, and how the American Dream comes in all varieties, shapes and colors of the rainbow. With undocumented DREAMers, like Sonny, threatened with being kicked out of the only country they’ve ever known, In the Heights itself is about the cross-section of dreams being nurtured, pursued, or just secretly cherished, by the first, or fifth, generation of Americans constituting the Heights. We’re shown how their individual hopes for the future represent a chance for each character to better themselves or their situation, find their own sources of pride, or achieve self-fulfillment in this new land of opportunity. These singular dreams, the little ‘sueñitos’ Usnavi calls them, are threaded like a patchwork quilt into the larger context of the American dream itself, which first attracted their parents to these shores, and turns out to mean something different, and deeply personal, to everyone it touches.

In addition, the movie’s framing device, with Usnavi relating events as a fairytale told to kids, assuming his culture’s traditional role of storyteller by keeping and preserving the oral history of his people, feels very Miranda-like in concept. And when we’re told that their Dominican ancestors chanted, to pass down the past to future generations, we know that the movie is meant to be continuing that same grand tradition, through its own means of modern storytelling for the masses.In fact, the movie offers a quick primer on Spanish heritage month, with a Usnavi aghast that the younger generation hasn’t been taught anything about their heritage in school, and can’t identify some of the most important Latin icons and influencers of the past fifty years. He offers them, (really us in the audience), a terrific, bullet pointed breakdown of highlights, detailing a Who’s Who and what’s what that ranges from Chita to Frida to Rita.Moreover, In the Heights’ themes, concerning cultural appropriation, assimilation, gentrification, immigration, systemic racism, redlining have never seemed timelier. The original play’s socio-political conscience has been updated to take into account the country’s more heated, current political climate, with DACA again under siege by the federal courts, and DREAMers being purposely blocked from a pathway to citizenship.There are even references to Usnavi’s bar back in the Dominican Republic having been ruined by hurricane, which is meant to remind us of the devastation visited on Puerto Rico by hurricane Maria when it hit that island back in 2017, along with the lack of an effective government response to it.

As it was similarly seen to do in other recent films, like Blindspotting and The Last Black Man in San Francisco, gentrification is shown gouging deep inroads into this closely knit community, attracting new residents, while pricing out others. But for a brief respite before their world changes irrevocably, everyone in the community is united by the same impossible dream, that they may be the lucky winner of the local lottery.Their imaginations run wild at how an infusion of greenbacks could change their lives for the better. But while Usnavi claims, “The point is not who won, but that we all had a (shared) sueñito,” it’s made clear that in capitalist America, even in a dreamland like the Heights of this movie, dreams have no hope of coming to fruition if they’re not backed by cold, hard cash. A fact further demonstrated through the stories of others in the film.The emotional disorientation and displacement experienced by the children of immigrants, like Nina, who are trying to make inroads into the American mainstream, seeking the sort of social assimilation and mobility that immigrants have historically pursued, is made palpable. Yet she feels out of place at those traditional bastions of entrée into the elite world of connections and privilege, like the Ivy League. Finding no acceptance or sense of community there, she’s instead greeted with either suspicion, condescension, or as a sellout by the black and brown waiting staff hired to attend the guests at ‘diversity’ dinners, that allow the academic chairs to publicly parade their open door policy for the benefit of donors.

Mistaken for a server when invited to these swank meet and greets, or falsely accused of stealing by her dormmate, she’s left feeling psychologically fractured and divided, as if she were turning her back on her people. Her lyrics confirm she feels “out to sea, wondering where I’m supposed to be.” Though the prejudice she experiences when she steps above her comfortable ‘place,’ is just as prevalent today as it ever was, the movie seems stuck in the Latin heritage of an earlier era. Nina’s shown caught in the same conundrum black and brown people used to be when trying to pass for white, to be accorded more opportunities in mainstream society. Neither here nor there, she’s left drifting between the winds, feeling she no longer fits in anywhere.

Having felt so privileged herself while growing up, emotionally insulated in the Heights, once in the larger world outside, she finds she’s just a small fish in a big pond, that sees and treats her as just another stereotypical Latina. But while Nina worries she’s lost touch with her roots, the time she spends back home helps revivify her, shoring up her strength and spirit. Her hair even tangles back into the natural curl she wore as a little girl. And she comes to understand why it’s so important for the younger generation, like Sonny, to see her as a mentor, breaking down barriers, and the older generation, like her father Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), who sacrificed so much to give her the opportunities they never had, to see her succeed, believing she represents the best they’ve got to offer, as one of the future leaders of America.There’s something askew about this movie adaptation of In the Heights though. For some reason, the emphasis seems to have been shifted from Nina’s story and her romance with Benny, to Usnavi and his pursuit of Vanessa. I saw an off-Broadway production of the play many years ago, and may be misremembering due to the Mandela Effect, but I seem to recall the predominant focus being on Nina, who turns out to be a supporting player here. The interracial affair has been reduced to secondary status as well, with Benny hardly in the film at all, and their signature song “Sunrise” cut.The incipient racism of Nina’s parents, in regard to her romance, is entirely skirted in this translation (she has no mother here). And this despite the importance that the dispatch center for the cab service her father’s trying to sell (bankrupting himself to further fund her education), was meant to play in keeping the community interwoven and connected. The dramatic emphasis has instead been shifted to Navi’s bodega, as everyone passes through at the beginning. Such changes as these have led to charges of colorism from certain quarters, and a lack of honest representation of the far more racially diverse blatino Heights community, than the film depicts.As planes and trains crisscross the screen, departing for destinations unknown, so many Heights denizens speak about the importance of being the ‘one to get out,’ like Nina, by attending Stanford, or Vanessa, who tries to rent a swank downtown apartment before being thwarted by a thorough credit check (shown to be another systemic means to exclude black and brown people traditionally prevented from building generational wealth).Her boss, beauty salon owner Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega), is relocating her business to Brooklyn, the piragua vendor is being pushed out of business by a more professional Mr. Softee (Chris Jackson) ice cream truck, Jimmy Smits’ Rosario must sell his car service to an overpriced drycleaner, while Sonny, being undocumented, finds he can’t aspire to a higher education because his lack of legal status means he doesn’t qualify for federal student assistance.Given such obstacles placed in their path in this country, preventing them from realizing their dreams, others, like Usnavi, want to relive the immigration experience in reverse, by returning to the Dominican Republic. Like many people, he believes his childhood were the best years of his life, before his parents brought him to an America so inhospitable to strangers and wayfarers, like themselves. He thinks he’ll actually have more opportunity in the old world, a better life.Since he believes racial barriers there won’t be so entrenched in the interest of keeping black and brown folk down. Interestingly, characters in the film are frequently framed against just such glass barriers, waiting to be broken. Ironically enough, this Dominican ends up espousing many of the same sentiments as those Puerto Rican gang members do in the ‘America’ number of West Side Story, when responding to their girlfriends’ unrealistically idealistic sentiments regarding the American dream.The evolving situation of all these people, whose lives are in flux, abandoning their homes in the Heights, setting out for greener pastures, moving on from their hermetically sealed community to merge into the larger American melting pot, is compared to the earlier experiences of their immigrant ancestors in leaving their own homelands for the wider world around them.They’re simply carrying this same innate, migratory spirit forward. As Rosario remarks, the neighborhood was predominantly Irish when he bought his own car service, many years ago. So, the influx of new arrivals, gentrifying the community is just part of the slow, but unceasing ebb and flow of migration, with first one group infusing new blood into the neighborhood, and then another. But despite the importance placed on ‘getting out,’ as if there was some overwhelming need to escape the Heights, the way this magic land has been conceived for our consumption, we can’t understand why anyone in their right mind would ever want to leave it. It’s presented paradisaically, an unspoiled Garden of Eden here on earth, the Never Never land Ramos refers to in his native tongue as ‘Nuevos’ York. For these children of immigrants, it literally represents a New land, full of hope and possibilities, where they could make their dreams come true.Rechristened with the nickname ‘Usnavi,’ given to him by his overwhelmed father after spotting a passing U.S. navy ship upon arrival, it seems to express both the character’s sense of being ‘reborn’ upon stepping foot on these shores, and the naivety of what his parents, so full of hope, expected their American experience would be, based on the promise engraved at the base of Lady Liberty.It’s the idealized immigration experience we grew up imagining ourselves, whenever we heard of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the quintessential building blocks that contributed to making America the country she is. It’s the kind of experience Navi’s aged ‘abuela’ (Spanish for grandmother) Claudia, touchingly interpreted by Olga Merediz, remembers, from when she was first welcomed with open arms to this country.Wrapped in the secure embrace of all her relocated friends and family who had departed before her, feathering the nest of a new little Havana, their comforting presence made here feel just like home. Having had no children of her own, she’s practically adopted the entire community, making her the symbol of the neighborhood, much as Ma Joad became the symbol of the people in The Grapes of Wrath. She considers them all part of her extended family, and so feels the pain deeply, personally, as she sees more and more long-time residents of her borough disappearing, causing much emotional grief. The scene where she takes her hand stitched embroideries, a housewarming present welcoming the much-resented new dry cleaner to the neighborhood, only to find she can’t afford the high prices he’s charging, is heartbreaking. With the small, mom and pop bodegas once located on every corner being priced out of competition, or bought out by more expensive, luxury boutiques locals can’t afford to patronize themselves, Abuela Claudia’s accumulated suffering takes its toll.The block they all grew up on and were nurtured by, seems to be disappearing out from under them, with permanent tenants disappearing from their stoops right and left, people moving out or dying, irreparably changing the face and character of the neighborhood. Having danced with mayor La Guardia when she first arrived here in 1943, when all the city still welcomed immigrants, in “Paciencia y Fe,” Abuela Claudia now sings she can’t even see the stars she once reached for, in the skies back in her homeland, or get any closer to them than the tenement roof, which they need special permission from the super to access anyways. These days, she can’t see any further than the circle of artificial glow cast by the streetlights, which seem the only thing holding off the pervading, encroaching darkness.The movie takes an overcharged turn toward the symbolic when even these lights go down during the blackout, leaving everyone in the Heights cast into darkness, helpless as their neighborhood is slowly swallowed up and dispersed to the winds. Even Abuela Claudia’s guiding light, which once illuminated the entire community, is snuffed out, replaced by the unified sea of candlelight, when all the neighborhood residents amass one final time, to pay their last respects (“Alabanza”).Her death, and the community’s subsequent enervation and ultimate resilience, taps into the country’s current emotional mood, in slowly emerging from the COVID-19 nightmare, which so disproportionately impacted communities of color. Olga Merediz, the actress who plays Abuela Claudia, having originated the role onstage, gives an ennobled, deeply moving performance. Her memories and stories capture both the promise and disillusionment of the immigrant experience beautifully, as Armin Meuller-Stahl did in Avalon. This is a truly transcendent piece of playing.Framed like the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on prayer candles, Merediz grounds the moving, slowing the pace so that viewers can better appreciate the richness of what’s here. The party at her home to welcome Nina back, better establishes the all-important sense of belonging the girl missed while away at college, than any of the manic, musical moments. And, as with many of the great American plays, the family dinner table also becomes the setting for dark family revelations, confrontations and emotional catharsis. With the entire community enervated by the heat, as in Do the Right Thing, the temperature keeps ratcheting up the tensions to boiling point (“Gotta get out of here soon, the blocks getting worse by the hour.”). But here pent up emotions explode, as they do in West Side Story, in the more proper musical context of dance. Believing they are powerless without electricity, directionless without the shining light on the hill Abuela Claudia once provided, the entire neighborhood appears to have lost its will to stand up and fight against a system designed to keep them down.So, the entire Heights must be reminded by sultry salon owner Daniela (diminutive Daphne Rubin-Vega from Rent has her big moment here) that in Puerto Rico blackouts happened all the time, and “We still threw a fiesta. Since when are Latin people scared of heat?” Rattling the hot-blooded community’s door knockers by leading everyone in a spicy salsa, she helps them find the inner light they believed permanently doused with Abuela Claudia’s passing. Guiding their way through the rhythms of the night, despite the power grid being on the fritz, the force of her shaking tail feathers performs a miracle, flipping the light switch back on, as if the fates had just paid off the full amount on their final notice.Despite Navi wanting Abuela Claudia to return with him to the Dominican Republic, given her symbolic importance in the story, one feels it wouldn’t have been right for her to abandon the Heights in this way (she departs it in the only way she could, with a chorus of angels arriving to guide her home). Or Navi either, for that matter, considering his positioning as her spiritual heir. They must remain, if only in spirit, in order to impart a sense of emotional continuity to the neighborhood. With this final sentiment, something along the lines of home is where the heart is, In the Heights is placed in the same fine cinematic lexicon as such other classics of more traditional Americana as The Wizard of Oz and It’s a Wonderful Life, both of which are referenced directly in the lyrics.Directed by Chu with an inventive visual dynamism that keeps things hopping, thankfully the film never runs out of steam. It’s been sharply rewritten in a manner that brings all the play’s main characters to their own, satisfying resolutions. But, apparently due to the number of castmates, it’s slightly disappointing that not all the characters come into as sharp a focus as one would wish. To strengthen the sense of community, all the neighborhood particulars should have their moment to shine. But quite a few promising bright spots just flicker out.Such as Dascha Polanco’s purring, curvaceous Cuca, the third wheel in the salon ladies trifecta, and even poor Marc Anthony, who can be heard on the new end-title song, written specifically for the movie, both of whom get left entirely by the wayside. Other characters go unaccountably wrong in different ways. The film doesn’t seem much interested in openly advertising the fact that in this film version Daniela and Carla are meant to be a couple, for instance. Blink and you’ll miss the implications.Meanwhile, Sonny, previously Usnavi’s wise acre wing man, has to suffer the indignity of the film going all gooey on his character at the end. He was intended as pure comic relief, and young actor Diaz is genuinely funny for the most part. But he’s been permitted to completely lose his sense of humor by the end, in the interest of getting all earnest and sociopolitical. I think he even had the audacity to start tearing up at one point, but I’ve blissfully blocked it out.The calypso inspired score is full of danceable reggae, congas, merengue, mambas, bachata and salsa beats, with lots of bongos and maracas. There’s even a dance off that evokes Gloria Estaban. And Chu has given the more bravura numbers the full, showstopping treatment, allowing them to spark off their own kind of fireworks. Some of the dances are so energetic that they can’t be contained, spilling out into the congested streets. They recall those from the New York-set Fame (editor Kerstein worked on the 2009 remake), as does the typographical font used for the title itself.As the streets erupt into movement, like well-timed flash mobs, Kerstein superlatively edits the images to the cadence and rhythms of the music. But shots are rarely held long enough to enjoy the fluidity of the dancing itself, despite the mounting momentum of Christopher Scott’s strenuous choreography (he worked with Chu previously on League of Extraordinary Dancers). The quick cuts leave them in Cubistic shards that attempt to show us all angles at once. Even during the big swimming pool number (“96,000”), which is like synchronized Esther Williams water ballet, the visuals, which are largely all one remembers of it, fly by too rapidly to drink in.We get the uneasy impression that we’re expected to applaud after each extravaganza like this, same way one would do at curtain call. The musical transition of Miranda’s songs from stage to screen was overseen by his longtime collaborators Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman. And though enjoyable while they last, being put over with much high-energy aplomb, they tend to evaporate in the mind like a warm summer rain immediately afterward, rather than sticking with listeners, the way catchy tunes tend to do. One doesn’t leave the theater humming them like earworms for instance.And the innovative hip hop and rap interpolations, which were so fresh and modern when first infused into the original Broadway show, no longer seem so daring, awaiting their more meaningful application in Hamilton. But at least Lin-Manuel Miranda has gotten to experience the pride of a proud papa in watching In the Heights transformed into a full-on cinematic experience. His buttons must be bursting. Unlike with his masterwork Hamilton, which was released as filmed theater, during the pandemic, on Disney+. Let’s hope that was merely prelude, for a bigger, better and more badass big screen movie adaptation to come.

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