In the Heights arrives in cinemas nationwide June 18th
The summer is here, and with it comes the summer blockbuster. These hot, dazzling and sensational films help you feel incredible as the sun beats down. And there is no other genre that encapsulates summer more than the musical. Musicals are a celebration of life and the complexities that come with it. And with the world still feeding off the Lin-Manuel Miranda rush of Hamilton, it makes sense to see a new adaptation of his work. But, how does In the Heights fair as a glorious celebration of life, Puerto Rico and summer dancing?
In many ways, In the Heights feels like a classic Hollywood musical. Tales of unspoken romance and lavish set-piece routines laced with sensational Broadway singing. Here, Jon M. Chu knows how to take us from intimate moments at dusk on a fire escape to panoramic large scale numbers as crowds dance through the centre of Washington Heights. However, some of the numbers do feel similar to Justin Chazelle’s La La Land, albeit on a smaller scale. And let’s face it, once you’ve shut down a whole L.A. highway, dancing in the street can become a little less impressive. This isn’t to say that there’s no spectacle to Chu’s work, as there are some dazzling musical moments; our cast of characters melodic tones snapping and kicking over electric Latin-American beats.
However, In the Heights does come with a range of issues that niggled at me throughout, the majority generated by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s distinctive flair. For example, talk-singing can be pretty irritating at the best of times, but even more so when used as extensively as it is here. The most mundane of sentences becoming lyrics as the film progresses. And while it may work well at times, this creates a clunky unease that undermines the musical performances – I want songs, not slightly musical conversations. However, this irritating minor flaw does not distract from a few great Broadway numbers. For example, Abuela Claudia’s sonnet to her life and block is glorious, especially when set against the colourful tunnels and winding platforms she beckons to us from.
Meanwhile, narratively In the Heights also feels slightly unfocused. For example, while we are encouraged to focus on Anthony Ramos,’ Uznavi’s journey back to Puerto Rico, it’s Leslie Grace’s, Nina that truly captures our attention. Her struggle with returning to the Heights, grappling with the prestige of being the one who made it out, and how her block perceives her, immensely compelling. Unfortunately, this isn’t her story, but it really should be.
That does not mean there are not a range of fascinating themes running through Jon M. Chu’s movie. From the influence of a figure like Abuela Claudia in a neighbourhood to opportunity, perception, community and diversity. Here, In the Heights has a strong heart as emotion runs through the streets; its optimism its lifeforce. And no matter how challenging Washington Heights may be, there is always a glimmer of light from a candle or firework.
Ultimately, despite its vibrant colour and music, In The Heights feels strangely weighed down by its creator. Here, Lin-Manuel Miranda needs to adapt his musical style to take us beyond sing-talking while allowing for a faster pace that keeps the audience fully engaged. For me, the film felt quite sluggish as it meandered around characters far less interesting than Nina or Abuela Claudia. However, I do not doubt that fans of Lin-Manuela Miranda will gobble this up. But, for those unfamiliar with Hamilton and those who are not fans of his previous work, there’s really nothing new held, In the Heights.