Review By Frances Winston
Directed by: Jon M. Chu – Starring: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Jimmy Smits, Lin-Manuel Miranda
In Irish cinemas now!
This was actually the first film I saw in a cinema after they reopened, so I was somewhat worried that I may just give it a joyous review simply out of the sheer delight of being able to watch something on the big-screen. However, I can assure you that anything I write is totally justified, and not in the least coloured by my excitement of finally getting to sit in a room with strangers, watching a film after several long months.
This has been very eagerly awaited, as it is an adaptation of the stage musical of the same name by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Yes, the same Lin-Manuel Miranda who gave the world the musical sensation, Hamilton. In the Heights pre-dates that historical musical hit, and first opened on Broadway in 2008.
Set in Washington Heights, hence the title, it follows Usnavi (Ramos), an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, living in the Heights, as he prepares to return to his homeland. However, an imminent blackout, a heat wave, and the issues of those around him, including his love interest, Melissa (Barrera) and young cousin, Sonny (Diaz IV), conspire to scupper his plans.
If you are familiar with the original musical, you will notice several changes here. They have cut some characters and songs, and changed some references, to make them more contemporary and relevant to a 2021 audience. However, this doesn’t detract from the central story, and shouldn’t distract anyone who has seen the stage production.
The mainly unknown, and up and coming cast, do a great job giving energetic performances that seep off the screen. Their youthful energy is balanced well by more established actors, such as Jimmy Smits, who brings stoicism to the story, and helps keep it grounded. Also watch out (well listen out) for a Hamilton Easter Egg during one of his scenes.
Visually, this is extremely colourful, but yet manages to have a gritty edge. It was actually shot in the real Washington Heights, and benefits hugely from using real life locations instead of a sound stage. It oozes urban chic. The choreography is fabulous, and there is more than a nod or two the legendary Busby Berkeley.
Director Chu clearly has a love for these characters, and their stories and struggles, and despite the whimsy a musical implies, he manages to convey the more serious elements of the plot brilliantly. There are several very serious sub-plots running throughout this, but they never become turgid or imposing, and they get treated with the proper gravitas.
This is a joyous movie-going experience that fills the viewer with hope and optimism after what has been a miserable fifteen months, and if you are looking for a film to leave you with a smile on your face to mark your return to the cinema, then this is it.
See trailer below: