I don’t think I would qualify myself as a lover of musicals.
“Damn, I just got my gay card back with my words on “Rita Moreno,” and now I have to give it up again?”
Nah. Here to save me, here to save movie theaters, and perhaps here to give us all a breath of fresh air is Jon M. Chu’s “In the Heights.”
Based on the acclaimed Broadway hit from Lin-Manuel Miranda, “In the Heights” is the feature film version starring Anthony Ramos as Usnavi de la Vega. From the opening frame, you can tell Usnavi is recounting a pivotal moment in his life, a moment where a decision is made that affects the ebbs and flows of life in Washington Heights.
That moment is a journey, full of heartbreak and tears, joy and happiness, of finding oneself in the shuffle – where do I go next?
Maybe I do like musicals, but enough about me . . . Usnavi isn’t the only one at a crossroads. It just happens that he’s the gatekeeper of a corner bodega shop at 118th street in Washington Heights. He has just the right way to make an excellent cup of coffee. So much so that it attracts Kevin Rosario, played by Jimmy Smits, and it attracts Usnavi’s Abuela, Claudia (Olga Merediz).
The opening frames as so well executed, from the choreography to the singing, the rhythm catches you in the right way; Chu knows how to keep our attention focused on the music and the actors. It helps that Ramos has a theater background, having worked with Lin-Manual Miranda on “Hamilton.”
Just as critical as what we see on the screen is what surrounds the characters. Alice Brooks’ cinematography is exquisite as the lighting follows the emotions, adding another layer to the music. For the first half of the film, there’s a gray, overcast sky about Washington Heights, and as our characters begin to realize where they’re supposed to be, the sun breaks out, the world pops with radiant light.
Based on the stage play, co-written with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegria Hudes explores themes and concerns that ultimately affect us. But none more than the cloistered community of Washington Heights. The story speaks of finding oneself, letting the next generation see and be the future, of being in the present, and supporting one another.
But also of having the power to make a change and to be change.
None of this is possible without the supporting cast, namely Benny (Corey Hawkins), the scholarly Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace) who feels that her place is with her people instead of the hallowed halls of Stanford, the amazingly talented Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) with her hidden aspirations, and the spunky Gregory Diaz IV as Sonny, Usnavi’s younger brother.
“In the Heights” is a rich film filled with flavor, character, and experiences. It’s a hotbed ready to boil over, but the story, through its end-to-end song, finds its way to see that it doesn’t boil over. Ramos is the centerpiece of the film; however, he shares the stage with all of the castmates, making it feel like the ensemble that it was intended to be.
I can’t stress this last part enough – if you are comfortable going to a theater, see it on as big a screen as possible with the best possible sound. If you can’t, well, “In the Heights” is streaming on HBO Max until July 11. Even with some of the best equipment a home theater can have, I’ll be headed to the theater to catch “In the Heights” again.
I guess this means I get my gay card back, right?
Should you want to check out the first eight minutes of the film, Warner Bros. has graciously offered it on You Tube:
Should you want to check out the trailer, it’s available too.
- In the Heights