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Movie Review: In The Heights

This week for “Close-Up with Camenker”,  Zach reviews . . . IN THE HEIGHTS! (August 13, 2021)


In the Heights (2021) - IMDb“While Lin-Manuel Miranda’s name has become synonymous with the hugely popular Broadway musical HAMILTON, the talented entertainer and artist first rose to fame with another hit musical that began off Broadway before opening at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in early 2008. That musical was none other than IN THE HEIGHTS, which tells the story of a Dominican neighborhood in Upper Manhattan and has now been adapted for the screen.

As a lover of musicals and Broadway, I try to see theatre as often as I can. Since the pandemic has upended so much of that endeavor, it has been delightful to see what’s been available throughout the last year and a half. I never did see IN THE HEIGHTS on Broadway or on a tour, so I was very much looking forward to the movie adaptation and in many ways, it did not disappoint.

Aside from the catchy and enjoyable music, which resembles HAMILTON stylistically, the story is timeless. Tracing the Dominican community in Washington Heights, a vivid portrait of seeking a better life and achieving one’s own version of the American Dream is central to the narrative at hand. Specifically through the eyes of the protagonist Usnavi, played by Anthony Ramos and originated on stage by Lin-Manuel Miranda, one catches a glimpse at what life is like in this neighborhood as it begins to change with the times. Usnavi is an endearing character in every sense of the word as are so many of the fellow neighbors who make up this huge ensemble. Their neighborhood comes to life vividly not just through the song and dance, but also the relationships the characters have with each other.

Adapting a big stage musical of song and dance for the screen is no easy feat. One often wonders whether a screen adaptation of a stage story will go over successfully or not. Since I cannot compare the two, it is hard to say how well IN THE HEIGHTS holds up on the screen. The biggest downside I can see it having is its nearly two and a half hour length, a challenge for any audience in 2021. While this did not bother me all that much, the folks I saw it with found it to be long, which I can understand. Somehow, similarly timed Broadway musicals rarely feel as long as films!

On the upside, the movie features some outstanding musical numbers with vivacious dance that is expertly choreographed. It pays homage to styles, old and new, that come to life on the screen with vibrant color and flare. I particularly noted a few tributes to Busby Berkeley dance numbers as he was notorious for choreographing dances in the pool!

In the Heights (2021) - IMDbThe cast is also a huge plus here. Not only does Ramos stand out and create a breakthrough performance, but he is supported by a lot of great talent. I was particularly fond of the characters of Daniela, Sonny, and Abuela, played by Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, and Olga Merediz. Each brings something unique and original to their performance and are some of the most memorable characters.

One always has to wonder whether or not a story’s legacy will endure. As is evident from trailers of the upcoming production of WEST SIDE STORY, which leaves me with very mixed feelings, some endure more than others. It’s clear to me that IN THE HEIGHTS is and will continue to be one of those enduring stories in large part because of its film adaptation. That sits really well with me as any story of the American Dream is worth hearing over and over.

Stay tuned for Volume XVIII, which will appear on Friday, August 27.”


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