“In the Heights” is directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians, Now You See Me 2) and stars Anthony Ramos (Trolls World Tour, Godzilla: King of the Monsters), Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island), Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera (Vida, Tanto amor), Olga Merediz (Shades of Blue, Orange Is the New Black), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Katy Keene, Smash), Gregory Diaz IV (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, New Amsterdam), and Jimmy Smits (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Son of Anarchy). This film is based on a stageplay by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a book by Quiara Algeria Hudes and is set in the New York City neighborhood Washington Heights. The story follows said neighborhood as they imagine and desire a better life.
I saw this film early. And by early I mean the Sunday before it came out. There were a plethora of special screenings so I thought I’d take the opportunity to attend one of them with my grandma because who does not like free stuff? Part of me was hesitant towards paying to see this film because I am not a musical guy even though I have enjoyed stuff here and there like “La La Land.” Maybe I would have used my AMC A-List, but still. Sticking with the facts, I have been reviewing movies for a long time, I am completely focused on the movies that are coming out as audiences continue to return to the theater (even though apparently “In the Heights” could have done better at the box office) so for those reasons, I decided to check out “In the Heights” for myself. I do not know if I would have seen this film during its actual release (or even on HBO Max), so I figured I’d watch it now just to say “Hey! I saw this!” And I did see it, so let’s talk about it.
I just want to iterate a couple things. First, I have heard nothing but praise for Lin-Manuel Miranda. I have not seen any of his Broadway work. Yes, I have not seen “Hamilton.” I’m sorry. I know it is popular, I know there’s a filmed version on Disney+, but I still have not seen it. I’ve heard a few songs from the musical because my sister was with me in the same place and she was playing them, but I was not the one in control of these songs. With that being said, this movie is my first exposure to ANYTHING related to “In the Heights.” Did it give me a good first impression? Well, I certainly did not hate it. I will start off by saying that the film is fun. There are some good songs, although there are a few that are admittedly forgettable despite maybe some solid execution in the actual film. The opening number set the tone well, a lot of the ones that came later seemed to match that original tone and occasionally, its catchiness. The main jingle of the film still lingers in my head from time to time.
The foundation of the film is not exactly one specific character, although the movie is mainly told from the perspective of Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) who did do a good job by the way. Instead, the foundation is this collection of people who belong to one region of New York City. We see all these people sing about the life they prefer to live over their own. And a couple of the songs in the film captured the emotions of these characters’ wishes. Granted, I cannot quote them. It has been a couple weeks and I do not think I’ll be watching “In the Heights” again anytime soon. But when it comes to pure fun, this film has the proper ingredients from time to time and part of it is because of the soundtrack. Will I remember the characters as some of my favorites by the end of the year? Not really. But the movie does an okay job at making Washington Heights itself feel like its own character per se.
I do want to bring up the pacing though. Now obviously, this is a lively, bombastic musical. So obviously, there will be some quick pace and non-stop music action. There is no doubt about that. I think at times the movie does a really good job at matching the songs to the emotions, thoughts, and actions of certain characters. There is one song towards the end mainly revolving around Olga Merediz’s character that I think was done particularly well and it continues to stick with me. Although there are not as many other songs in the movie, as well put together as they are, that have such staying power. Speaking of staying, I feel like I stayed at this movie a little longer than I had to. I felt like the stereotypical dad who goes to his daughter’s dance recital and constantly begs to himself to just stand up and leave because it is going on for such a long time. Although in my case, I think I am displaying less impatience, even though there was some to display, and more curiosity as to when the lights would turn back on. I say that because there is a lot that happens in “In the Heights” which is amazing to me because I talked to a friend who calls herself “that snob” because she liked the stage version much better than the film. I have not seen anything except the film, so more power to her. She told me they made some changes, and they took some things out. That last statement floored me because this film feels packed to the brim with material. Song after song. Character after character. By the end of the film, when it feels like it has hit its climax, there’s actually like ten, twenty minutes of main material left. And I say ten to twenty minutes because I apparently found out that there is an end credits scene in the film that I did not watch.
There are a lot of good things about “In the Heights.” The cast is likable and talented (although somewhat controversial), the film looks very pretty, the cinematography is some of the absolute best I have seen this year and could arguably receive a few nominations during awards season. No, seriously. There is a sequence by the end of this film that I would buy the Blu-ray just to see if they explain how it was done in the bonus features. Additionally, Jon M. Chu did a pretty good job at bringing his vision to reality. It feels lively, fun, spirited, hyperactive from beginning to end. So even though I was kind of begging for the movie to end as it hit what I was its second or third climax, I was still having fun. I’ll even say there are a couple chuckleworthy lines in it. Granted, it’s not like I’m watching Kevin Hart or something, but there are still some funny lines here and there.
In the end, “In the Heights” has good things in it, but I do not think this film will get any replay from me except for maybe once or twice. If I did not review movies, I would probably not go see this by myself. Once again I will say, I did see this with my grandma just for clarification, but if I were in a situation where I did not review movies and I saw the list of movies playing at the theater, I would probably skip “In the Heights” unless I was with someone who really wanted to see it or if I just wanted a spectacle, which this movie did provide from start to finish. When I talk to a friend who says they took some things out of a movie that I still think is too long… That is not a positive. Granted, I did have fun with “In the Heights” and I do recommend it. But the movie feels like “Return of the King” by the end of it. It feels like it could end, but it’s like a party and there’s that one guest that won’t leave no matter how hard you try to shove them out the door. “In the Heights,” I like you, but you can’t stay here. I’m going to give “In the Heights” a 6/10.
Technically speaking, I would give “In the Heights” a tad higher grade than a 6/10, maybe at least a 7, because it does look beautiful. But when you add in the fact that some of the songs did not stick with me, the characters themselves not all sticking with me either, and a runtime that feels like a turtle occasionally wrote this film despite everything feeling fast, that’s a problem. This is why the film gets positive marks from me, even though I would not consider it to be my favorite of the year. I think there will be an audience for it. It started off getting great reviews and I notice the ads seemed to highlight a bunch of celebrities promoting it because apparently some people trust them more than Variety and The New York Times, so I could see “In the Heights” maintaining a cult status. I do recommend if you are to see this film, maybe go with a couple friends to the theater because one of the big positives of the film that I will mention is that it is best viewed on a big screen. As much as I like HBO Max, this movie is bigger than a streaming service.
Speaking of which, “In the Heights” is now playing in theaters everywhere and is currently available for a limited time exclusively on HBO Max.
Thanks for reading this review! Coming soon, I will have my review for “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” the brand new sequel starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, and Salma Hayek. That review will be up soon, that is if I survive long enough to actually post it. Also, this Thursday I will be going to see “F9: The Fast Saga.” It comes out in theaters that day, so I will attempt to have my review up for the film as soon as possible. I will also be reviewing the new Disney+ exclusive Pixar movie, “Luca,” which did come out in one theater in California, so without giving anything away, it will qualify towards my future yearly posts including The Jackoff Awards and my top 10 lists. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account and also like the Facebook page so you can stay tuned for more great content! I want to know, did you see “In the Heights?” What did you about it? Did you see the stage version? What are your thoughts on that edition of “In the Heights?” Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!