Dominican Dreams

In The Heights

Director: Jon M. Chu

Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Jimmy Smits, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Dias IV, Daphine Rubin-Vega, Dascha Polanca, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Olga Merediz, Marc Anthony

Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu takes on the ambitious project of adapting a Broadway musical In the Heights into a film adaptation and unfortunately the finished product while dazzling and funky has limited appeal and should have been edited considerably.

In the Heights was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda who has a small cameo role as a cool drink seller and based upon the novel by Quiara Alegria Hudes, is set exclusively in the mainly Puerto Rican and Dominican neighbourhood of Washington Heights in Spanish Harlem, New York.

Last seen in a supporting role in the Oscar winning A Star is Born opposite Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, Anthony Ramos expertly takes on the main role of Usnavi as a young thirty something Bodega owner who runs a mom and pop store in the heights with the help of his naughty but sharp cousin Sonny wonderfully played by Gregory Dias IV. It’s refreshing to see the talented Anthony Ramos headlining a film.

Audiences should watch out for a cameo by Jennifer Lopez’s ex-husband Marc Anthony as Sonny’s drug fuelled deadbeat father.

Usnavi starts off the film by telling a story to his young children and their friends about the community of Washington Heights and soon the screen explodes into a dazzling dance sequence of exuberant characters and a community which is proud of its Latino roots even if their economic advancement is often stymied by the affluent New York establishment.

With the exception of Sonny and Usnavi’s Cuban grandmother Abuella Claudia played by the brilliant Olga Merediz, the rest of the characters are portrayed with flippant glamour and without much depth including the love interest between Benny played by Corey Hawkins (Kong: Skull Island, BlackKKlansman) and Nina Rosario played by Leslie Grace.

Even well-known actor Jimmy Smits (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Nina’s father Kevin Rosario who is desperate to uplift himself out of the Latino community he is born into, does not get enough screen time or suitable characterization. The conflict between Nina and her father is deepened by her terrible experience at Stanford, an Ivy League University in California.  

The dance numbers in In the Heights are uneven, some of them are excellent especially the sequence with Claudia on a subway train channelling her Cuban immigrant roots while others are terrible including the rap number in the communal swimming pool.

As the story unfolds, the film does not find its feet until the second half when New York is plunged into a three day blackout during a summer heatwave. When the blackout occurs, the real depth of In the Heights ironically shines through.

In the Heights is an enjoyable musical about a section of the Latino community which seldom gets a spotlight shone on them. Despite some good performances, In the Heights at 2 hours and 23 minutes could have been drastically edited.

If viewers love fun musicals then watch In the Heights which gets a film rating 7 out of 10, but this area specific musical has limited appeal.

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