“In the Heights” is a musical that had one of the most successful Broadway runs in recent history. The show opened at the soon-to-be-defunct McCarren Park Pool, and after an out-of-town tryout, the show hit the Great White Way. The cast is filled with local favorites, such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, and Rosie Perez.
There’s been a lot of hype for the new Disney musical “In The Heights” over the last few months, but this time the anticipation is justified. The film is a full-blown musical that hits all the right notes, with star Alexis Bledel and a stellar supporting cast that includes Kenan Thompson, Jamie Chung, Blake Jenner, and more. The film’s core message is simple; working hard in a mundane field can often lead to success, even if it means being stuck in a dead-end job.On High, scheduled for a mid-2020 release, was one of last summer’s blockbusters whose release was delayed due to the pandemic and theater closures. After a year (or two) of tremendous hype surrounding the film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit movie, Do Hamilton, the film was released with… Disappointing results at the box office! Contradictions! For months, there was nothing but goodwill for a diverse and inclusive musical that would once again flood the summer box office. In no time at all, a weak opening weekend in theaters and on HBO Max, as well as concerns about the lack of an Afro-Latino cast in the film, overshadowed its reception. The lack of representation and concern about colorism that some members of the Latino community feel is justified, and it’s very unfortunate that this film took on the task of being all things to all people, because there are very few films that feature minorities like On High. As far as box office revenue goes, I hope this musical, like The Greatest Showman, slowly burns up and has legs all summer long as more and more people discover this film. Personally, I didn’t know much about the musical itself – I knew it was Miranda’s first hit and I had heard some great songs. As I walked out of the movie theater last Friday night, I wondered: Oh, boy. It’s nice to see movies on the big screen again.
In the Heights is the kind of movie you need to see in the theater.
Superheroes or blockbusters are big and picture-rich for the big screen, while horror movies are a shared event worth experiencing together. But in the debate over which films get better as they get bigger, the musical often gets lost – too rare to mention in the discussion, and often too financially risky for the studios that launch them. These are not guaranteed successes; the knowledge of Broadway IP is often much more limited to certain coastal cities than we would like to believe. But a film like On High proves – at least in terms of quality – that a sincere investment in production does lead to something magical. It is a huge, dizzying, breathtaking spectacle that will leave you with a big smile on your face.
The film tells the story of Usnavi de la Vega, a young resident of Washington Heights, New York, who owns a bodega.
Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), like many of the characters we meet in his neighborhood, dreams of his future. He plans to return to the Dominican Republic, where he spent his childhood, and revive his late father’s business. For the time being he is staying with his neighbour’s family. They are Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), Usnavi’s love interest with big fashion ambitions, Benny (Corey Hawkins), Usnavi’s best friend, and Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace), Benny’s love interest and the pride of Washington Heights for being the girl who gets into Stanford. As a fateful heat wave-induced summer eclipse approaches, much of the story focuses on the dreams and ambitions of Washington Heights residents, the financial constraints that stand in the way of those dreams, and how capitalism and the passage of time are changing the neighborhood and the people who live there. But at its core, it’s a film about finding your place – and who you’re supposed to be. Warner Bros. Entertainment
Solid performances and great musical numbers elevate this film far above other failed musical adaptations.
The voice work and performances of the actors, led by the charismatic Ramos as Usnavi, create something special, sometimes touching and often deeply funny. Among the lead singers, Melissa Barrera stands out – an incredible voice and an undeniable talent for days. Given upcoming roles in Scream and Carmen (with Paul Mescal), I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re dealing with a rising star here. The best thing about On High, however, is the cast. Neighbor Abuela (Olga Meredith), the witty young nephew (Gregory Diaz IV) and Jimmy Smits provide moments that keep the film exciting between the big songs. And Daphne Rubin-Vega, as salon owner Daniela, is the best thing she’s done since her role as Mimi in Rent, and is responsible for two of the film’s best moments. The only person in the film I’m not comfortable with is Lin-Manuel Miranda himself. He plays a secondary and largely secondary character, Piragua Guy, and the film is forced to cut him unnecessarily often, and his (very distinctive) voice sounds annoyingly through the choruses directly into our ears. Man of genius, very bad actor and singer. But back to the big numbers! As all critics have said, they are the absolute highlight of On High. Shows like 96,000 and Carnival del Barrio are not only sonic successes, but also emotional ones. Director John M. Chu, as in Crazy Rich Asians, handles the scale masterfully. The ensemble numbers are huge productions, with the chorus members stretching the boundaries of the screen and dancing around the set. But you can’t wait for each of these big numbers to reach their destination. There are many of them. And while the film is a bit long (143 minutes), it largely manages to keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
You can watch In the Heights at home and be entertained. But if you get the chance, a movie this great and funny deserves to be seen in theaters.
It’s not every day (or every decade) that you get to see a musical as good and entertaining as On High. During Hamilton’s tenure, John M. Chew elevated a little-known work to the ranks of great modern musicals. The critics of the film’s presentation are absolutely right: this film is not for everyone, especially the Afro-Latino community. But I hope this film can charm everyone, because it has too much heart and energy to be overlooked at the box office this summer. Go buy a ticket for Heights! Not only will they be busy boosting Warner Bros. revenue prospects, they’ll be in a better mood. Follow on Twitter @MovieBabble_ and Jack Edgar @JedgarAllenPoe Thanks for reading! How did you like the movie On High? Comment below! If you enjoyed this article, sign up for the e-newsletter to keep up with the latest content. Become a Patreon member to continue receiving new content.
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