There’s exuberance and understanding into an Upper Manhattan Latino community that’s definitely a cinematic, rhythmic elixir from Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians).
His In the Heights is lovingly drawn from Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Tony award-winning 2008 musical by scripter and playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes.
Pride in one’s heritage comes to the fore in a rally against an inevitable urban renewal with a freeform hip-hop artistry that is a sheer, upbeat crow-pleaser. Even with a notable plaintive turn and an incidental feel which can make it seem stagey.
Yet, it’s hard not to get into the working-class immigrant milieu invested in the American dream starting with Dominican bodega co-owner Usnavi (a fine Anthony Ramos). In the el barrio this protagonist seres s a kind of soft-spoken narrator as he’s a partner with insouciant cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV). To renovate the old family home and purchase a beachside bar in the Dominican are his aspirations.
While Usnavi’s very fond of a local hairdresser Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) she’s looking towards a more upscale city environment in wanting to become a fashion designer. Another story strand includes friend Benny (Corey Hawkins) reuniting with ex-girlfriend Stanford dropout Nina (Leslie Grace). Benny’s boss happens to be Nina’s dad, Kevin (Jimmy Smits) who is indebted by her costly studies and may have to sell his delivery business.
The pulse and sentiment here is ignited by Chu and his technicians at the outset with a flashy, titular opening during a sweltering, hectic summer morning whether on the streets or off to work.
A robust unyielding spirit from a struggling neighborhood is evident throughout and isn’t about commentary about bias or inequality as a looting during a city blackout is touched on. Not a seamless transition to the silver screen doesn’t mean sweetness and creativity is in short supply. It’s a case of humanity suppressing any swirling or simmering narcissism and cynicism.
A winning ticket from the bodega is the inspiration for ‘96,000’, one of the noteworthy numbers and sharply choreographed set-pieces. Hawkins and Grace shine in their doleful duet “When the Sun Goes Down.” A key figure in Hudes’ narrative is Usnavi’s grandmother Claudia who raised him from a child after the untimely passing of his parents. Here, Olga Merediz gets to reprise this Tony-nominated role in affecting fashion in the memorable ‘Paciencia y Fe’, an adroit recreation by Chu and his staff.
Miranda even appears in a cameo as street vendor Piraguero selling shaved, fruity icy treats in a musical film that lacks the dynamic cohesive aura of his masterful Hamilton which more than appeased many streaming views last year. But, the embodiment of his concept resonates in the filmmaking and able performers for a hearty ‘it takes a Washington village’ in the Heights.