Monday, July 12, 2021

Movie with Abe: In the Heights

In the Heights
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Released June 11, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

Bringing a beloved musical to the big screen isn’t an easy task, and merely trying to do so is bound to create a horde of unhappy customers. There is an understandable tendency to amplify the songs and scenery to create an immersive experience that is quite different due to the natures and environment of cinema and theater. But film as a medium also has a tremendous amount to offer, and when used well, it can bring about a fully involving and celebratory experience, one that’s a marvel to enjoy both in theatres and at home.

Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) lives in Washington Heights, where he owns a bodega and saves every cent he makes to fulfill his dream of returning to his birthplace of the Dominican Republic. As his plans begin to solidify, a potential romance with ambitious hairdresser Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) appears on the horizon. Nina (Leslie Grace) comes back home from Stanford University, prompting clashes with her businessman father (Jimmy Smits), who reminds her of everything he’s done for her, and a reignited connection with his top employee, Benny (Corey Hawkins). The neighborhood’s resident Abuela (Olga Merediz) advises all the young people she has seen grow up, while another staple, salon owner Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega), prepares to move to a new location as the summer heat begins to become unbearable.

onvey This musical is best described as epic, full of a fabulous cast of characters, all of whom contribute to the story and many of whom get their own songs to really shine. While Usnavi is the protagonist, there are so many other stories at play and so many rich, entertaining personalities who get ample screen time. One ability that film has which theater does not is the opportunity for close-ups and a true focus on each character that invites even more than a solo musical number can convey. The scope of the large dance scenes with many participants are equally compelling and fantastic.

While the show he wrote after this one, “Hamilton,” ended up being released on television as a filmed version of the play, this adaptation of the first Lin-Manuel Miranda production, which debuted more than fifteen years ago, invites an almost entirely new cast for this effort, with the notable exception of the endearing Merediz. The result is truly successful, bringing many incredible talents to center stage. The use of onscreen effects in certain scenes should serve as a reminder to audiences that they’re watching a movie, but one that brings a winning and wondrous story to life in a fantastic and memorable way. All elements combine here to deliver a much more than satisfactory experience.


No comments: