In his first film since the smash hit “Crazy Rich Asians,” director Jon M. Chu teams with Tony award-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda bringing his Broadway hit “In the Heights” to the big screen.
If you like your musicals flashy, long and chaotic, “In the Heights” will certainly satisfy that missing element from the box office. A film about dreams, culture and family, Miranda and Chu integrate some of the actors from the Broadway production and new faces to create an eclectic movie going experience.
Anthony Ramos from “A Star is Born” and “Hamilton” takes the lead here. He channels some John Leguizamo in singing and charisma. Reprising her Tony-nominated performance, Olga Merediz nearly steals the movie with limited screentime. Some of the actors work better than others, but the films biggest drawback is the run time, which drags after the 90-minute mark.
“Best days of my life,” Usnavi (Ramos) says each morning, staring at the photos of him and his father back in The Dominican Republic. Usnavi dreams of returning to his Caribbean island and rebuilding his fathers bar that has since been reduced to rubble.
This decision isn’t an easy one, he has build a life in the heights, his Abuela, Claudia (Merediz) has been like a mother to him and half the block. The girl of his dreams drops by the family-owned bodega daily, where he treats Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) to free coffee, but he fails to confess his love. With his finances finally in order to move a step closer to his dream, it also would mean giving up on another one.
If you know what “sing talking” is, “In the Heights” starts with that right off the bat. Most dialogue is sung, rather than spoken, in addition to the musical numbers. Some of the numbers occur in simple settings like you might expect: a salon or the bodega. Others, however, are more like cinematic flash dance sequences; like those taking place in a public pool or in the middle of the street.
No amount of spectacle here is going to convert someone who dislikes musicals, this isn’t a game changer like “Moulin Rouge” or “Chicago." The ensemble cast as a unit are just that, barely any of them stand out on their own, which is a nice way of saying no real award potential here.
While “In the Heights” aspires to moments of greatness, it always falls just a bit shy of blowing you out of your theater seat, and a theater is certainly where this type of spectacle should be seen.
Some of the scenes lean farther into fantasy than feels necessary when considering the subject matter. Like most musicals, there are elements of love and relationship scattered among different characters, but the film is strongest when championing culture, diversity and heritage. Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asian’s” also was an ensemble with romantic elements, colorful interludes and a long running time, “In the Heights” is simultaneously more ambitious and bloated.
"In the Heights" will release in theaters June 11.
Final Thought: While "In the Heights" is ambitious with memorable musical sequences, it’s running time might leave some a bit exhausted.