WORTH A LOOK?: *****
RELEASED: Preview 11 June 2021, across UK 18 June 2021
RUNTIME: 143 minutes
The sultry height of summer is the perfect time to see this much-delayed film version of the Tony Award-winning musical with a big heart celebrating community and the feeling of no place like home.
- Read on for reasons including the many TV stars kicking up a storm in the supporting cast
We know this film is striking a chord because in the latter quieter, more emotional moments we can hear sobbing from fellow audience members and tears roll down our cheeks as a final decision is made by one of the film’s central characters.
We first saw Lin Manuel Miranda’s (Hamilton) musical in 2015 and said then: ‘It’s no wonder that this production’s run has just been extended through to January because, while the UK’s summer might be over, In The Heights remains a ray of blinding sunshine to be celebrated.’
In The Heights is set in the present day predominantly Dominican-American neighbourhood of Washington Heights and is the story of Usnavi, a bodega owner, who has a crush on Vanessa and in the opening titular number there’s comedy as she visits his store and he struggles to ask her out as we meet some of the main characters.
But there’s more to In The Heights than summer love and Nina (Leslie Grace impressing with her dignity and stubborn mindedness) is returning home to tell her struggling taxi business-owning father (an almost equally stubborn Jimmy Smits) that she’s dropped out of university without explaining the full reasons.
During Breathe we gain a real sense of what it is like to be the 1 who has the talent to escape their immediate surroundings but also the disappointment that others can feel when the reality hits home about what that means.
Nina breaks the news to sweetheart Benny who works for her father and shares Usnavi’s ambition and hard work ethic as he does all he can to chase his dreams.
In fact the immigrant experience is well explored particularly through Usnavi’s adopted Abuela during her song Paciencia y Fe (Patience and Faith) as she explains the journey she made from Cuba to the US in 1943, how she struggled to learn English and eventually worked as a maid.
For us In The Heights is at its most emotionally affecting when it reflects on the challenges of not having much money but asserting one’s own dignity in building a cohesive community and so when it comes under threat by gentrification it can challenge the notion of ‘home’ or where one feels they most want to be.
In The Heights is directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), boasts Manuel-Miranda as producer and the genius also appears in a minor role as the ‘Piragua man’ facing his own threat.
It benefits from being shot in Washington Heights and being brought out of its stage origins and the lido scenes reminiscent of mass Busby Berkeley movies are especially impressive.
We also enjoyed the heightened choreography in the club scenes as Usnavi’s and Vanessa’s 1st date doesn’t quite go to plan.
There’s comedy aplenty as we visit Vanessa’s salon workplace and meet a gossiping supporting cast during No Me Diga including Brooklyn 99‘s Stephanie Beatriz and Orange Is The New Black‘s Dascha Polanco. During 96,000 the whole community fantasises about the different things they would do if they won the Lottery.
There’s a real sense of place as we feel the hardships with the cast of a blackout in the community as power is lost during the heat but also the joy of water during the height of summer as characters sing of the joys of busting open water hydrants to flood the streets to cool residents as temperatures soar.
In The Heights won 4 Tonys when it arrived on stages over 10 years ago and at its simplest it is about the abandon of summer and the thrill of first love but it also boasts a big heart.
If you like musicals, we think this is even better than Hamilton, love the soundtrack and think that you’ll be bowled over by the beautifully expressed heart at the centre of this fantastic tale. There’s even a new song – Home All Summer – to persuade you back into cinemas in summer at a time when the reopening of musicals on 21 June is very much in doubt.