Rating: PG Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera and Olga Merediz. Directed by Jon M. Chu Written by Quiara Alegria Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda Length: 143mins
Lin Manuel Miranda’s first, deeply personal, broadway musical explodes onto our screens, full of passion, exuberance and joy. In the Heights, directed by Jon M. Chu and led by the formidable Anthony Ramos, is finally hitting the big screen after it’s initial release date in summer 2020 was pushed due to Covid 19, and this is definitely a great film to return to if you haven’t been to the cinema since they’ve reopened.
The story is somewhat three pronged; our leading man, Usnavi, navigating rising costs and running his bodega in Washington Heights with his young cousin as he dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic to spark life into the beach side bar his father owned before coming to New York. Nina, the brilliant student returning from Stanford facing the pressure of being the ‘one who made it out’ and representing her community in an environment that doesn’t treat her with any kind of respect and Vanessa, the girl with big dreams who is itching to get started. All three stories intertwine with one connecting factor. Community.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know to expect fireworks. This film is big, it’s colourful, its loud and it’s unashamedly a translation from stage to screen. Chu hasn’t tried to mould this musical into a hard hitting movie. It manages to carry the energy that was something that made the Broadway show so incredible and drop it into our cinemas letting the fun of musical theatre to do it’s thing all while bringing attention to the themes of unity, representation, community and love to the forefront. Now if you’ve seen or heard any of Miranda’s songwriting then you’ll be aware that his style doesn’t fall into a classic ‘razzle dazzle’, jazz hands musical theatre genre. He uses rap as much as ballad and I’m aware that this might put people off but I highly recommend that you give it a go. The first 10 minutes of the film take a bit of adjusting, your thrown into quite a long rap, a few location jumps, actors looking down the camera lens…it’s quite a lot. But if you allow yourself to settle down, accept what is on your screens and get to know the characters and the stories in front of you then you’re likely to find yourself deeply invested as well as shimmying in your seats.
Now as a film, it’s not perfect. It’s a long movie which is fine if you can buy into the world but I appreciate that the 2hrs23mins run time might be somewhat off putting. There’s very little character development which I think is part of the transition from stage to screen, it requires it’s audience to take it at face value and just hop on with the situation as it is. Had this not been a musical, you can see where film makers might explore the backstories of some focal characters; I personally didn’t mind the lack of deep characterisation but again, appreciate that others might find it a little jarring.
This feels like an important film. Not only is it bringing attention to an under represented group of highly skilled, brilliant people from the Latinx community, but it is a film for the dreamers. There’s been a lot of discussion around representation within this film, on which I am not really the right person to be commenting, but one thing that I think is so important in this movie is that it highlights people. It highlights community. It highlights friendships. It highlights family. It represents the dreamers. The bottom line is that the style of this film will not be to everyones taste, but, it speaks to more than ‘taste’. If you watch it with an open heart I truly believe that there is something that everyone can take from it.
“With patience and faith we remain unafraid”