Starring: Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace
Director: Jon M. Chu
Running Time: 143 mins
In The Heights is an American film about the neighbourhood of Washington Heights in northern Manhattan, home to a vibrant Latin American community who spend their days dreaming of the future, from the future of the locality to a life far away from the streets they grew up on.
Having a fairly messy relationship with stage musicals on screen, I certainly didn’t expect to enjoy In The Heights anywhere near as much as I did. Granted, the film is by no means the best movie musical you’ll ever see, but it’s so full of passion, energy and relentless positivity that even the biggest musical cynics (myself included) won’t be able to resist walking away from this film without a smile beaming across their face.
Admittedly, In The Heights isn’t a normal movie musical, with a lot more emphasis put on songs and epic dance choreography than sparsely using music to aid a story. In this case, the film borders on Les Misérables territory of singing, where the actors sing normal dialogue about some of the most mundane things, all in the build-up to a big musical crescendo that always hits home brilliantly.
Taking up so much of the film and needing to relate normal dialogue, the songs are fairly indistinguishable from one another, with a bit of rap, slow ballads and big, flamboyant show tunes thrown into each musical number, each of which is based around a different character and/or trait of the local neighbourhood.
It’s fair to say that some things are certainly better spoken than sung, and the film does a really good job to balance its music and dialogue in the second half, after a very sing-songy opening act that almost serves as a distraction to the story that’s being established, in comparison to the impressively clear dialogue delivered by the film’s delightful cast.
And that’s one of the other things that really makes In The Heights soar. Though one might say it’s a fairly idyllic portrayal of a harmonious inner city neighbourhood, the movie’s cast give it their all in bringing this vibrant and relentlessly positive community to life. Lead actor Anthony Ramos is fantastically likable throughout, while supporting stars including Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Olga Merediz and Gregory Diaz all thrill as members of this colourful New York community.
The tight-knit relationships portrayed on screen and in song, along with the characters’ passion for their heritage and their futures, make the nearly two and a half hours of this movie really fly by, especially as you get to know them all better and better as the story progresses. In The Heights is a long film, but its energy is what makes it work so well, and there are few films out there quite as endlessly uplifting and crowd-pleasing as this one.
I may not be entirely sold on the music on its own, but as part of a big, vibrant movie musical, it all brings so much thrilling energy to the table, alongside a heartfelt story, spectacular dance choreography, and a stunning ensemble cast. So, that’s why I’m giving In The Heights a 7.6 overall.