The Reel Review
Residents of New York City’s predominantly Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights, the most prominent Dominican community in the United States, share their dreams for a better life, in this adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony and Grammy award-winning Broadway musical. The story centers around a winning lottery ticket sold at a local bodega just days before a city-wide blackout.
Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) brings the Broadway play to life, capturing the neighborhood’s vibrant ecosystem. It is a rousing, infectiously fun, crowd pleaser bursting with charm, love and positivity. Anthony Ramos, fresh from Miranda’s 2016 Tony award-winning musical and subsequent movie adaptation Hamilton, shines with optimism as Usnavi, the shopkeeper with dreams of leaving America for a better life in the Dominican Republic.
The ensemble cast is terrific. Standouts include Melissa Barrera as the aspiring fashion designer and Usnavi’s love interest, Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton) as the car dispatcher interested in the daughter of his boss (Jimmy Smits) who’s back home from Stanford, played by Dominican-born singer Leslie Grace. Olga Merediz reprises her role from the Broadway production as Usnavi’s beloved Abuela Claudia. It’s a big cast. Marc Anthony and Valentina from RuPaul’s Drag Race even have brief cameos.
The biggest negatives? At nearly two and a half hours, In The Heights is a good 45 minutes too long, with a few too many over-choreographed and painfully corny dance numbers. But it is still fun to see Miranda’s clever hip-hop stylings similar to those that would come to life a decade later in Hamilton. The feel good story is just so sunny and upbeat, brimming with hopefulness, and a beautifully rich representation of the Latino community, that it can’t help but leave a big smile, and plenty of tears, on your face once those credits do finally roll.
• In The Heights won four Tonys in 2008 – for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations.
• In The Heights creator Lin-Manuel Miranda decided not to reprise his lead role Usnavi from the Broadway play in the film adaptation, instead appearing as the shaved ice vendor.
• Filming for In The Heights coincided with filming for Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, with filming often occurring just a few streets from one another. In The Heights director Jon M. Chu says sets were so close at one point that the catering truck for West Side Story was in their shots.