“In the Heights” wastes its gorgeous score and likable characters on confusing plots and motivations in an odd adaptation of a spectacular musical by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“In the Heights” follows Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who runs a bodega in a gentrifying part of Washington Heights. He dreams of leaving New York behind for the beaches of his childhood memories but slowly realizes the depth of the connections he’s made at home, particularly with Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), the girl he loves. Hope is invigorated in the neighborhood when it’s revealed that Usnavi’s store sold a winning lottery ticket for $96,000, bringing to the forefront the dreams of various residents. Taxi dispatch owner Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits) could use the money to pay for his brilliant daughter Nina’s (Leslie Grace) Stanford tuition, while her once and future boyfriend Benny (Corey Hawkins) wants to go to business school to better his prospects.
The score of the film is absolutely spectacular. Miranda won the Tony for Best Original Score, and listening to the songs it is not difficult to understand why. The soaring ballads and romantic duets are moving, while the ensemble numbers make you want to get up and dance. I think this film may actually be more fun in a living room than a cinema, as staying seated during songs like “96,000” or “Carnaval del Barrio” would be a challenge. The film is worth watching if for no other reason than to hear the beautiful music in context.
“In the Heights” does fall into the classic movie-musical trap of letting dialogue scenes interrupt various songs, particularly big ensemble numbers, destroying the momentum. Two major group songs were thankfully allowed to just exist without interruption or substantive alterations, and they become two of the show’s best set pieces, with awesome vocals and excellent choreography complimenting the music.
The vocal performances are all strong; every actor is a talented singer. There is some overuse of autotune, particularly on Nina and Vanessa, which strips away some of the emotion in favor of sterile perfection, but
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