Photo | “In The Heights” – Warner Bros.
If Lin-Manuel Miranda made music out of history in “Hamilton,” he takes the business of everyday life and works his verbose, melodic magic in the film adaptation of his earlier Broadway musical, “In the Heights.” The residents of New York’s Washington Heights are the music makers of dreams; some want to return to their roots, while others strive to assimilate further into the proverbial American Dream. These comings and goings are all expressed through the now-famous, mile-a-minute patter of Miranda, whose originating role, Usnavi, is now dazzlingly portrayed by Anthony Ramos.
Usnavi owns a neighborhood bodega, and from this corner vantage, interacts with all his neighbors, including the gorgeous Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) who works at a local salon but plans to move to downtown Manhattan and be a fashion designer. Another incredibly attractive potential couple is Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina (Leslie Grace), whose father (Jimmy Smits) owns a taxi service that he has leveraged to the max to send his academically gifted daughter to Stanford. Like in so many other stories, young couples dance (literally in this case) toward and away from one another, and the universality of young love, generational expectations and just pursuing your dreams is explored through the specificity of immigrant experiences.
The frenetic pace of neighborhood life is matched by the wildly energetic dance numbers, including a spectacular number in a city pool and a witty song about gossip that takes place in a salon, where even the wig heads get in on the action. The first song tells of an upcoming street party that will get you out of your house, and this sun-drenched treat of a film, finally coming out after a pandemic postponement, promises the same thing for summer moviegoers who have been dreaming of a return to the big screen cinematic experience.
The choreography is outrageously wonderful, and director Jon Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians” and some of the films in the “Step it Up” dance film franchise) displays an understanding of how to show dancing in a way that outshines the last big American musical, “La La Land.” I could not help but compare that film’s bright, L.A. opening number to this film’s bright, New York opening number, and for me, “In the Heights” felt more organic. While the musical format of “La La Land” seemed deliberately idiosyncratic, a throwback, “In the Heights” felt like an exciting new way to experience a musical telling of a story. The words and dance moves flowed freely with the action, motivations and characters. The music is the story.
I think “Hamilton” converted some people who thought they didn’t like musicals with its inventive use of history as the subject matter. “In the Heights,” however, is strictly for music and dance lovers. Hardly a word is spoken. If you prefer films where folks don’t sing, don’t invest two and a half hours in this excursion. There will be singing. And dancing. Much dancing. It’s all extremely fabulous in my opinion, but that’s the movie. Don’t go to the beach if you don’t like sand and don’t watch this musical if you don’t like singing.
“In the Heights” is romantic, sexy, energetic, colorful, heartwarming and beautifully told. It is a complete marriage of story, music and dance that is also big on emotion. I always particularly enjoy a movie cast that is full of people who are not yet household names — I often find them more convincing — and the one thing everyone in the cast of “In the Heights” has in common is crazy talent. You can enjoy watching it and also appreciate the process from a more theatrical standpoint. The story is engrossing and the actors, dancers and singers are a wonder to behold.
“In the Heights” is now playing at all multiplex theaters and the Crescent Theater.
The Fairhope Film Festival has a monthly film series that sells out quickly, so I’m telling you about it way in advance. On Monday, July 12, the film is “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.” Proceeds benefit the Fairhope Film Festival. The screening is at Ben Gall Theater in the Fairhope Film Festival Office, located on the corner of Fairhope Avenue and Summit Street, 122 Fairhope Avenue, Suite #1.
Tickets are $15 and include refreshments. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Film begins at 6 p.m. (If the 6 p.m. screening sells out, a second screening is added around 8:30 p.m.) From Academy Award-winning director Caroline Link (“Nowhere in Africa”) comes an adaptation of acclaimed British author Judith Kerr’s classic novel based on her childhood memories. The story of a Jewish family’s escape from 1933 Berlin to Western Europe tackles prejudice, exile, displacement and adaptation, as told from the perspective of the author’s alter ego, 9-year-old Anna Kemper.
New This Week:
“F9: The Fast Saga”: Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto is leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty and his son, little Brian, but they know danger always lurks just over their peaceful horizon. This time, that threat will force Dom to confront the sins of his past if he’s going to save those he loves most. His crew joins together to stop a world-shattering plot led by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered: a man who also happens to be Dom’s forsaken brother, Jakob (John Cena). All multiplex theaters, Nexus Cinema Dining.
“The Sparks Brothers”: How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential and criminally overlooked all at the same time? Edgar Wright’s debut documentary, which features commentary from celebrity fans Flea, Jane Wiedlin, Beck, Jack Antonoff, Jason Schwartzman, Neil Gaiman and more, takes audiences on a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers/bandmates Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks — your favorite band’s favorite band. AMC Mobile 16.
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