Movie review: In The Heights

Washington Heights, NYC

In The Heights
(Left Center-Right Center) ANTHONY RAMOS as Usnavi and MELISSA BARRERA as Vanessa in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “IN THE HEIGHTS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

My Father’s Day present was my wife taking herself, our daughter, and me to the new movie In The Heights. After church, someone had noted that it’s airing on HBO Max or whatever. Goodness, no thanks. I’ve seen too many films on the small screen in the past year.

We walked to the Madison Theatre. Not only is it our neighborhood cinema, but it had been closed for months because of the pandemic, though it did offer takeout food.

Will this be a private showing? We were the first three people in the theater. There was a party of four that came in during the many previews for films not in my queue, mong them Quiet Place II, F9, the Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, and the new Top Gun.

We all enjoyed the story of a bodega owner named Usnavi (Anthony Ramos from Hamilton) telling a tale about the folks in his Washington Heights, New York City neighborhood. Nina (Leslie Grace) is home for the summer after her first year at Stanford, the pride of the neighborhood, especially her father Kevin (Jimmy Smits). His cab company employes her old beau Benny (Corey Hawkins).

Usnavi is assisted at the store by his cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV). The proprietor has ad a long-standing, but unstated crush on the artistic Vanessa (Melissa Barrera). Meanwhile, Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) is a cross between the mayor of Washington Heights and everyone’s mother.

There are lots of good tunes, most largely unfamiliar to me; the Abuela song was quite touching. Some impressive dancing is taking place, especially 96,000, in and around a swimming pool, which had to be a technological challenge

I’ll allow that at 2:24, it’s about 15 minutes too long, even with some of the songs from the  Tony-winning score left out. This is a regular sin of musicals, in my experience. Still, I was never bored.

Bust

This begs the question, then. Why has In The Heights been a commercial failure thus far? After a mediocre opening, the box office dropped some 67% in its second weekend. The reviews were good; on Rotten Tomatoes, the critics were 96% positive and were 95% of audiences.

Is it because some of it was in Spanish? I didn’t find it a barrier myself since most of the film is in English. But potential viewers may have worried nonetheless. Did the color controversy, mentioned by Ken Levine in paragraph seven, have anything to keep people not only home but off HBO Max? I don’t know.

I’m recommending In The Heights, in the theater, if you can see it there. Lots of funny Hamilton touches. Phone music featuring You’ll Be Back. Christopher Jackson (George Washington) as the ice cream truck driver competing with the ices seller (Lin-Manuel Miranda, who of course, co-wrote In the Heights and Hamilton.) And wait until the very end.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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