The Heights Of It (Film Thoughts: In The Heights)

A couple of weeks back, I was invited to an advanced screening of the movie version of ‘In The Heights,’ and I was overjoyed. I had been so looking forward to its release even before the pandemic. It held such promise – Tony award winner, Lin Manuel, directed by john Chu – and I wanted it to be a five star musical. It was going to be my first trip back to the cinemas after more than a year and I wanted it to be monumental. Sadly, I was disappointed. It’s nowhere near a train wreck. As a matter of fact, there are great things in it, and some elements amazed me. It has fantastic performances, and Anthony Ramos will probably be a huge star because of it. But I felt it was too long, and I couldn’t help but edit some parts of it in my mind.

But let’s start with the good. The film is a visual delight, and it starts of magnificently – the opening number sets the mood effectively, and it’s so great to look at you don’t know where to start staring. The cinematography is bursting with colors, and each explosion is a treat for the eye. The score – even though it is not my cup of tea – is orchestrated beautifully, and it sure sounds full-bodied. And yes, I would say most of the performances are great, starting with Ramos’ star-making Usnavi. Melissa Barrera, who I know from Vida, is a striking presence here (I didn’t know she could sing!) and for the most part, everyone gave justice to their roles (even Lin Manuel in a role specifically made for him)

Yet, there is a hollowness in there I could not shake. Some of the songs just don’t work for me, and I felt like it’s the same song over and over. Its plot was never its strongest, and the additions and subtractions in the screenplay did not help. And I do think some judicious cuts would have been welcome. I mean, if I got a little bored, can you imagine the average moviegoer?

I didn’t like that I felt that way, so I wanted to watch it a second time before writing my thoughts. And yes, for the most part I felt the same, though I do think that I enjoyed it maybe a tad more the second time around. Maybe I was more relaxed – I had a little bit of anxious energy when I was at the movie theater. And I must also add …what do I know? The crowd I saw it that night gave the film thunderous applause that night. And sure, while I wanted the film to be truly fantastic, it being good is still an achievement. 

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