'In The Heights Review' With Casey
Adapted from the famous musical first produced on Broadway in 2008, In the Heights presents a vibrant kaleidoscopic view of the New York City neighborhood Washington Heights and the hopes and dreams of its Latinx residents.
Translating a powerful stage production into a dazzling cinematic spectacle is a rare success. Into the Woods (2014) was charming but far too truncated, and Cats (2019) was a trainwreck of pirouettes and fur. But In the Heights remains mostly engaging and fun because it feels so contemporary for a musical. Blending rap with traditional musical theater singing and mixing abrupt hip-hop choreography with legitimate Latin rhythms and movement makes the film feel unique and bold. The struggles of the Latinx characters are not the tired issues of racism or poverty but the more specifically current-day issues of gentrification and undocumented citizenship which help the film's themes feel weightier.
No doubt using his previous work experience directing two sequels in the Step Up series, Asian American director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians, 2018) expertly captures the large-scale dance numbers with the swift and sweaty precision of Busby Berkeley or Bob Fosse.
An awful lot of songs are in this film about the different goals or fantasies of each character, and that does paint a complex human picture of Latin American lives. But it doesn't help the story progress. More than once during this film, I thought to myself, "I got it! You all have hopes and dreams! So what happens next?!"
Despite the waning narrative direction, and the predictable changes in the plot, In the Heights is hopeful, animated, and sincere. And it gives wonderful visibility to Latin culture in the U.S. along with overdue spotlights on young Latinx actors. This charged entry in the musical canon feels like the classic 1961 movie musical West Side Story meets the gritty 2012 independent film Gimme the Loot. If enough people keep trickling into theaters, In the Heights could become the film of the summer.