Ready to go the movies and feel good? Today, Lin Manuel Miranda's "In the Heights" starts summer movie-going with a happy jolt. Miranda's Broadway musical with "Crazy Rich Asians" director Jon M. Chu's imagery makes for one terrific film! Plus, a dazzling cast should pull you out of your pandemic static and maybe even to the movie theater.
You can still watch it on HBO Max, too, as Warner Brothers Studios continues the practice of releasing a movie into theaters and streaming it at the same time. Whatever the screen size, the reviews have been great for this film, with old fashioned charm and songs you'll sing for days!
The Tony Award-winning musical made its debut in 2008 with Miranda in the Broadway cast, and this time he has just a small role in the film that focuses on a New York neighborhood, Washington Heights, and the strivers and dreamers trying to make it there.
Although Miranda has taken only a small role in the film, he passes the lead passes to "Hamilton" co-star Anthony Ramos, who is going to be a big star. He plays Usnavi, the story's narrator, presenting a fable about the neighborhood to a group of smiling children, and the story unfolds. The film premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Festival this week and the audience loved it, and I think you will too!
Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera in the musical 'In the Heights.'
The story finds him running the local bodega, trying to make ends meet while pining for Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who has her own aspirations to escape and become a fashion designer. The other key couple shares a past, with Nina (Leslie Grace) coming home from Stanford, uncertain about whether she belongs, and Benny (Corey Hawkins) working for Nina's father (Jimmy Smits), who is so proud of his daughter's accomplishments he doesn't hear her concerns.
The neighborhood itself, meanwhile, is changing, threatening its everybody-knows-your-name charm with gentrification. Usnavi is contemplating a break too, heading back to his native Dominican Republic, although the prospect of romance has a way of complicating even the best-laid plans.
The simplicity of the tale belies the intoxicating nature of the music, from lovely ballads to a showstopping Busby Berkeley-style rendition of "96,000" at the local pool and a beautifully choreographed homage to Fred Astaire. Throughout, the movie bursts with energy and color, with shrewd casting choices from top to bottom, perhaps especially with Grace (a singer making her movie debut) and Barrera (who co-starred in the Starz series "Vida").
As it happens, "In the Heights" kicks off an unusually well-populated lineup of movie musicals this year thanks in part to the logjam created by Covid, with "Annette" (which willpremiere at the Cannes Film Festival),"West Side Story,""Dear Evan Hansen" and "Everybody's Talking About Jamie" all still to come.
Those films remain unseen, but in terms of fulfilling the promise of its material and setting a high bar, audiences will be well served indeed if any of them manage to scale these "Heights."
"In the Heights" premieres June 11 in theaters and on HBO Max. It's rated PG-13.
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