In the Heights

Director: John M. Chu
Writers: Quiara Alegriá Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Full Cast and Crew List: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1321510/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm#cast
More Info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1321510/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0

IMDB’s Movie Summary: A film version of the Broadway musical in which Usnavi, a sympathetic New York bodega owner, saves every penny every day as he imagines and sings about a better life.

My Thoughts: So I just watched In the Heights, and even though it’s not a book or a fanfic, and that’s what I normally review, I found it interesting enough that I though it merited its own review. Now, I will happily admit that when it comes to movies and most forms of visual media, I am far worse at longform analysis than I am with literature. Therefore, I am not going to be dividing this movie into its component pieces and reviewing each piece individually. Instead, I’ll be doing something far more simple, yet also effective, and yeah, I hope you enjoy. If you want to give me some feedback, feel free to join my discord server and provide it, because this is kind of new for me. So without further ado, let’s get started.

What I think worked: So In the Heights is a musical, and as a result, I think the most important thing for it to get right is having fantastic music. There are musicals out there that I don’t think have a good story (think The Greatest Showman), but that I still like because the soundtrack’s really great, and In the Heights has one of the best soundtracks that I’ve heard in a long time. From the lightning-in-a-bottle opening number In the Heights, to the bombastic as hell 96,000, to a few of the quieter, more reflective moments like Just Breathe and Paciencia y Fe, virtually every song in the film is fantastic, with a couple exceptions that I’ll get to later. And not only is the music itself amazing, the choreography is just as good, if not better. One thing that I really enjoy about In the Heights is that it takes advantage of the fact that it’s adapting a broadway show into a movie. As a result, we get a lot of very interesting and well-executed camera work (When the Sun Goes Down was an absolute highlight in that regard), and the big, full cast numbers (96,000, Carnaval del Bario, Blackout, etc.) have choreography on a scale that feels like it matches the intensity and energy of the music. For those who don’t know, the music for this movie (and the Broadway show being adapted) is written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and overall, I think he did a fantastic job. His lyrics are as intricate with their rhyming schemes as always, and he once again does a fantastic job infusing hip-hop into all sorts of other genres to make for an all around fantastic soundtrack.
However, In the Heights isn’t just good from a music perspective. I think it tells a very nice story as well. Now don’t get me wrong, it won’t blow your mind or anything, it’s really just a couple parallel love stories with some undertones of finding your home, etc. Not very complex stuff, but I think the film does a good job not only exploring the intricacies of the culture and community in Washington Heights, but also creating some really vibrant and fun characters in the process of doing so. And that brings us to the characters who are, besides the soundtrack, probably the highlight of In the Heights. Not only are they all played by some very talented actors and actresses who all bring their absolute A Games to the film, but they’re also written very well and go through some rather compelling arcs throughout the movie. I particularly thought Anthony Ramos, Leslie Grace, and Corey Hawkins were fantastic as Usnavi, Nina, and Benny respectively, but don’t take that as me criticizing anyone’s performance in this film, because everyone did a fucking amazing job.
So to recap, In the Heights’ best qualities are its soundtrack, the cinematography, and the characters (both their arcs and the actors who play them), and while the overall story of the film is far from bad, I would hesitate to describe it as more than good. Alright, let’s make a few critiques here and there, and then give a final verdict!

What didn’t work for me: One of the things that I immediately think of when looking to critique this film is the song No Me Diga, which takes place very early on in the movie. This is a song that I skip practically every time I listen to the soundtrack, and I don’t think the sequence within the movie does anything to make it better. While all of the singers in the song do a very good job, I don’t think it’s very musically interesting, especially compared to the rest of the songs in this movie. I also don’t think the lyrics do much to move the story forward in any substantive way, and it just feels like a somewhat pointless diversion that exists to pad the runtime. This, combined with the fact that I just don’t find it to be very fun to listen to, makes it an annoying part of the movie to get through. The only other song that really feels like this is Paragua, but at least that one’s fun to listen to and has an inventive sequence to go along with it.
And this brings me to my second complaint, which is that In the Heights is probably about fifteen minutes too long. This isn’t really the biggest deal in the world, because it’s a very fun movie overall, so you won’t feel the padded length all that much, but I definitely think the movie could be made better if it was trimmed down just a little bit more.

Final Thoughts: Overall, I really like In the Heights. It has an absolutely fantastic soundtrack, the actors all do a really great job, and a lot of the musical sequences are very innovative and fun to watch. It also has some really great characters, and a simple story that does a really good job complimenting the music, which is what a musical’s story needs to do at the end of the day. I’m giving In the Heights an 8.5/10 and I do recommend giving it a watch. Especially if you’re a fan of musicals, but even to all you musical skeptics out there, who knows, maybe this film will be the one to change your mind about the genre as a whole. The only way to find out is to give it a try.

Written on 07/12/2021

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