May 21, 2021
There’s no space for bad feelings as Miranda’s exuberant and innocent Broadway hit transfers to the screen
In the Heights review – Lin-Manuel Miranda musical loaded with Sunny-D optimism
There’s a sentimental kind of exuberance and more than two solid hours of dancing in the streets in this boisterous, if earnest, movie-musical version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway hit from 2008. (Famously, it was while taking a well-earned holiday after this stage success that Miranda chanced upon Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton – and the rest is showbiz history.)
It is a sweet-natured film with Sunny-D optimism and a no-place-like-home ethic; in a pleasant way, it felt like a feature-length version of that moment in Fame when all the kids start dancing and singing around the yellow cab outside New York’s High School of Performing Arts. You might also compare it to West Side Story, soon to be revived by Steven Spielberg. But this is a world of all jets and no sharks, or all sharks and no jets. There is no serious conflict here, and the quarrels, family rows and lovers’ tiffs disappear very quickly.The scene is the Washington Heights district of Manhattan, a vibrant hub of Latin American communities. A hardworking, romantic young guy called Usnavi runs a bodega, a corner store, with his cheeky cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz) and dreams of one day making it home to the Dominican Republic to open a beachside bar. On stage this was Miranda’s part; now it is played with likable openness by Anthony Ramos, with Miranda taking a cameo as someone selling cold drinks from a cart. Bashful Usnavi is in love with smart, beautiful Vanessa (Melissa Barerra) who works in a nearby nail salon, but with ambitions to be a fashion designer. Meanwhile, Nina (Leslie Grace) returns to the neighbourhood from her studies at Stanford to a hero’s welcome but she’s secretly eaten up with sadness: she wants to drop out, sick of racism in the student body, and worried about her dad Kevin (Jimmy Smits) going broke to pay her tuition. Meanwhile, her ex-boyfriend Benny (Corey Hawkins) has obviously still got a thing for her.
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