Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera play as Usnavi de la Vega and Vanessa in the film adaptation of “In the Heights”.
“In the Heights” is a celebration of love, life and community, say critics.
The film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award winning musical currently has a 97% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 130 reviews and is coming to theaters and beyond HBO max on Thursday.
Directed by Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians”), In the Heights explores the lives of residents of Manhattan’s Washington Heights Hispanic community. The story revolves around bodega owner Usnavi, who dreams of leaving New York City and opening a bar in his home country, the Dominican Republic.
Usnavi has a crush on Vanessa, who works at the local beauty salon and dreams of moving downtown to become a fashion designer. Nina and Benny are the other central couple in the musical. Benny is a dispatcher at a taxi company owned by Nina’s father, but dreams of starting his own business.
Nina has just returned to town after a year at Stanford University, but she doesn’t want her father to find out that she dropped out because he was struggling to scrape together money to send her to the prestigious school. She is also the only one in her family who is going to college.
Interwoven in these love stories are other members of the community struggling with their own problems, including landlords and realtors who are driving up rents in the area. There’s also a heat wave and a lottery ticket worth $ 96,000.
Critics have hailed Chu’s direction and Quiara Alegria Hudes’ script adaptation of the story, which she helped Miranda put on stage. Anthony Ramos was recognized for his breakout performance as Usnavi and the reviewers who were delighted with the bright colors and flashy dance numbers of the film.
“To quote ‘In the Heights’ itself, the streets are made of music in the first really happy, bubbly and exuberantly life-affirming film of the summer,” Ann Hornaday wrote in her review of the film for the Washington Post.
Here’s what critics thought of “In the Heights” ahead of its Thursday debut.
A. O. Scott of the New York Times praised Chu’s direction of the film, especially the extravagant musical numbers. Chu is no stranger to incorporating dance into his storytelling. He previously directed two films in the “Step Up” series. He was also hired for the upcoming adaptation of the musical “Wicked”.
Scott, like other reviewers, has put Ramos in the spotlight.
“Ramos’s charisma fits the role perfectly,” he wrote. “His humility is as engaging and genuine as his courage, and he is a strong theater singer as well as a subtle film actor.”
Ramos portrayed Usnavi’s cousin Sonny in the stage musical and played John Laurens and Philip Hamilton as part of the original cast of Miranda’s other Tony Award-winning musical “Hamilton”.
“‘In the Heights’, which opened on Broadway in 2008 and was due to hit theaters last year, feels like a freshly scraped piragua on a brooding July day and as steadfast as the girders of the George Washington Bridge,” wrote Scott. “It’s a piece of mainstream American entertainment at its best – an assertion of impatience and belief, a celebration of community bonds and individual ambition, a testament to the power of the art to turn fights into dreams.”
Corey Hawkins and Ariana Greenblatt portray Benny and Nina in the film adaptation of “In the Heights”.
“Sometimes a film comes out that feels perfect – and not because of a superficial attachment to current events,” wrote Clarisse Loughrey in her review of the film for Independent. “The themes that pulsate in ‘In the Heights’ – culture, identity, community, gentrification and the rights of undocumented immigrants – are just as central today as they were when Lin-Manuel Miranda made his stage musical debut in 2005. “
“But Jon M Chu’s wholehearted, dizzying soulful adaptation hits theaters after a year-long delay, in a world that is still trying to crawl out of the shadows of a devastating pandemic. In this sense it is a gift. “
Loughrey said the film is very much aware of how closely the musical is tied to the tradition and New York City of Washington Heights. Chu dons his hat to Esther Williams’ aquamusicals and the balletic West Side Story while respecting the neighborhood’s cultural history. During the Carnaval del Barrio, a tapestry of flags wafts high above the crowds, including those of the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Puerto Rico.
“‘In the Heights” is a musical triumph that is not afraid to raise its voice to heaven, “she wrote.
“Film adaptations of stage musicals go a tricky way to condense the story to the length of a feature film and at the same time to translate a stage production into a cinematic experience,” wrote Rafael Motamayor in his review of the film. “Many get lost in the big show and forget to actually adapt the lyrics, but that’s not the case with ‘In the Heights’, a film that doubles the commentary of the original amid all the catchy and breathtaking musical numbers to really make the first one cinema experience of the summer well worth seeing. “
Motamayor noted that Chu and Hudes delve deep into the play’s themes about dreams, but also contextualize some of the characters’ motivations and struggles with what it means to be part of the Latinx community and the pressures, hopes and dreams inheriting from your parents in some ways that hasn’t been explored in stage production.
He said there are moments when the movie’s social commentary can come across as “really cheesy,” and there are a couple of subplots that feel constricted into the narrative with no nuance and ultimately detract from the main story.
“Make no mistake, this is a musical that has been turned into a blockbuster as Chu treats the long shots of the dozen of background dancers with the same eye as you could see Christopher Nolan on ‘Tenet’ or the Russo brothers apply to Endgame. “, he wrote.” Beneath the upbeat lyrics and the relentless optimism of the characters that surfaced at several points in the film lies a sense of melancholy, a realization that things are fading, neighborhoods change and leave people, but we could think of it like this throw a huge party before that happens. ‘In the Heights’ is this party and we’re just lucky to be invited. “
Anthony Ramos stars in “In the Heights”.
Mixed with Chu’s kinetic dance numbers is “Paciencia y Fe”, a ballad sung by Abuela Claudia, an elderly woman who lives in the neighborhood and treats everyone as a family.
The “enchanting” dance number contains contemporary ballet and tells the story of Claudia’s mother, who left Havana for New York.
“Recorded on the old trains and platforms of the New York Transit Museum, the musical tone changes during ‘Paciencia y Fe’, transporting the audience back in time, reliving painful memories of their struggle for survival in America and peace at last to be home again, “wrote Monica Castillo in her review for The Wrap.
The ‘Paciencia y Fe’ sequence has received critical acclaim for showing the tension many Hispanic people feel as they adjust to life in America, a place where anything is supposed to be possible.
Castillo noted that “In the Heights” is a rarity in Hollywood. His Latino characters “live a normal life, outside of gang or drug violence and outside of stereotypes”.
“How seldom do we just see a job and cultivate our ambitions; do we even have enough dialogue in most films to have ambitions?” She wrote.
The film shows the importance of inclusivity and diversity not only in our neighborhoods, but also in the entertainment industry.
“With ‘In the Heights’, Chu delivers the Latino equivalent of his previous blockbuster ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and knocks it out of the park,” she wrote.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.