We Need To Talk About… Seeing In The Heights On The Big Screen
Mr Anthony Ramos and Ms Melissa Barrera in In The Heights (2021). Photograph by Macall Polay, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
This summer, a roll-out of delayed blockbusters will begin, showcasing new work from Hollywood’s auteurs and trusty reliables, such as F9, the latest in the Fast & Furious franchise, which is out at the end of June. But before all that, there’s one film we recommend you watch to reignite your love affair with the big screen. In The Heights is a big all-singing, all-dancing musical and one of the first major studio releases to be back in cinemas. So, why should you start with it? Let us persuade you.
An all-singing, all-dancing musical, you say? I can’t say I’m all ears.
Listen, we get it. What you’re really waiting for is Bond, but hear us out. The cinema is the place to go for immersive, big-screen action and it doesn’t come bigger than In The Heights. A modern-day Technicolor musical set in the Washington Heights district of New York, it chronicles the interlocking lives of its Dominican Republican community. The film is a love letter to Latino culture and the Upper Manhattan neighbourhood (it was largely shot on the streets, in 2019) with music and lyrics from its former childhood resident, Mr Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Mr Lin-Manuel Miranda? I know that songsmith. I liked his last musical, Hamilton.
Well, you’re in luck, my friend, because In The Heights is his other Broadway hit and 2008 Tony winner, which shares with his later historical epic the same hip-hop rhythm, syncopated wordplay and all-round irresistible zest for life.
Sounds epic. Can I expect similarly large-scale action set to a hip-hop beat?
Not quite. Hamilton, the story of an American Founding Father, reimagined major historical events. In The Heights centres on smaller, day-to-day struggles about finding love, life and a place in the world.
Photograph courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
I thought you said this was a big-screen must-see.
It is. The stories may be personal, but they are vital. The film’s narrator, Usnavi de la Vega (played by Mr Anthony Ramos), is a bodega owner with dreams of reopening his late father’s beach bar in the Dominican Republic. Nina (Ms Leslie Grace), meanwhile, is finding out the limits for a Latino girl in the Ivy League. Gentrification, the plight of undocumented immigrants known as the Dreamers and the challenges of making a home away from home all encroach on In the Heights’ residents’ dreams and ambitions.
And this is a big summer musical? It doesn’t sound like the cinematic escape I’d hoped for.
In the hands of Crazy Rich Asians director Mr Jon M Chu, In the Heights is pure escapism. And the film wears its struggles as lightly as the characters have to in order to survive and thrive. They pick themselves up with a hip-hop beat and the first bars of a song and salsa away everyday frustrations. Whenever times get tough, a thrillingly exuberant Bollywood-style set piece in a lido is a mere scene away (and worth the admission price alone). Fire hydrants burst open, couples run along fire escapes and Ramos ignites every scene with a passion that will have you dancing in the aisles of Screen 1.
I’m thinking La, La Land and Ramos is the new Mr Ryan Gosling.
It certainly earns the comparison for the way the film matches old Hollywood charm to modern concerns, but Ramos is not simply a new RG. The film is a rich celebration of Latino culture (the food alone will have you searching for your nearest restaurant). And Ramos, who is of Puerto Rican descent, is a new kind of leading man. He’s also the heart and soul of the production and, according to Miranda, the guy who set the set alight with his impassioned refrain, “Let’s do it for the culture.”
And they have, by the sounds of it.
And then some. An old-fashioned musical delight that’s also ground breaking, multicultural and modern, In The Heights is the only way to welcome back cinema this summer.
In the Heights is in US cinemas now, streaming on HBO Max and in UK cinemas from 18 June