Living with the COVID-19 pandemic for over a year, we all need some smiles and that’s exactly what the highly anticipated movie In The Heights gives us, starring Anthony Ramos with veteran stars like Jimmy Smits, available in theatres and to rent at home in Canada on June 10.
Musicals are a divisive category of entertainment, particularly when they are adapted into film form. While many people love singing along to songs from iconic musicals like West Side Story and Les Miserable, watching actors break into song and dance in between dialogue, we can also recognize that there are definitely people who find it a bit corny or cringe to see actors singing and dancing with no explanation.
The big question is, will non-musical lovers still enjoy In The Heights? This movie can definitely bridge that gap.
Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) worked with Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote In The Heights when he was a college student, to create this vibrant joyful experience with a clear attention to detail in every shot, not to mention the fact that this soundtrack will be stuck in your head for days.
Lean into the big musical numbers and let the film leap from the screen into your heart.
What is ‘In The Heights’ about?
In The Heights begins by introducing us to Usnavi (Ramos), a bodega owner in the Washington Heights area of New York City, who hopes to move to the Domincan Republic to restore his late-father’s beachside bar.
While much of the story is told through Usnavi’s eyes, the movie is largely about this family-like community of people. There is Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), who isn’t actually Usnavi’s grandmother but she takes care of everyone in the neighbourhood. Usnavi’s friend Benny (Corey Hawkins) works at the taxi dispatch owned by the father (Smits) of his love interest Nina (Leslie Grace), who just returned to New York for the summer after attending Stanford University in California.
Usnavi has a crush on Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) who works at a local salon but she has aspirations of living downtown and becoming a fashion designer. Usnavi also works with his cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), a teen with a passion for social justice.
While most people associate Miranda with Hamilton, In The Heights was actually his first smash 2008 Tony Award-winning musical. Miranda originally starred as Usnavi in the Broadway production but takes on a smaller role in the movie, Piragua Guy (a piragua is shaved ice topped with flavoured syrups).
Not dissimilar to Hamilton, the music in In The Heights includes rap and hip-hop influences, with salsa beats and more contemporary music stylings than those usually associated with musicals, which naturally gives it a broader reach and more approachable context.
In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Miranda said he was “writing what was missing” in the world of musicals.
“I knew I wanted a life in musicals, I directed West Side Story my senior year of high school and I knew that was kind of it for Puerto Rican guys in musical theatre,” he said on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
“I wanted to write musicals starring Latinos, telling different stories.”
One of the most impressive musical numbers (with debatably the catchiest tune) is for the song “96,000,” filmed on location at Highbridge Pool where everyone from the neighbourhood goes on a hot summer day. They find out that someone who bought a lottery ticket at Usnavi’s bodega is the winner of a $96,000 lottery prize.
While Miranda did an amazing job as Usnavi on Broadway, there’s no denying that Ramos is a bonafide superstar that you could watch for hours but more importantly, this story is told in a way that quickly makes you invested in the entire cast.
In tumultuous times these are the stories we need to hear, stories about community, friendship, family and support systems that celebrate different cultures, foods and tell authentic immigrant stories, including first, second and third generations of immigrants, that hold true for so many people.
In The Heights is available to rent at home on June 10