Lights up on Washington Heights.
Opening weekend for the big-screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's debut Broadway musical "In the Heights" is finally upon us after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed its theatrical release for nearly a year.
According to critics, the "spirited," "cheerful," "life-affirming" and "socially undistanced" cinematic marvel is the perfect reason to return to theaters, which went dark across the country for several months because of the public health crisis.
"To call this movie assertive would be an understatement; to describe it as small would be a lie," writes Justin Chang for the Los Angeles Times.
"At nearly two-and-a-half hours and with a terrific ensemble of actors singing, rapping, dancing and practically bursting out of the frame, 'In the Heights' is a brash and invigorating entertainment, a movie of tender, delicate moments that nonetheless revels unabashedly in its own size and scale."
Directed by Jon M. Chu, "In the Heights" centers on charismatic bodega owner Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos) living in New York City's predominantly Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights.
While operating his bustling local business, Usnavi (originated on Broadway by Miranda) uplifts his vibrant community, finds love and dreams of escaping to his native Dominican Republic.
"As a collection of interwoven stories set to the pulsing rhythms of everyday barrio life, this 'In the Heights' can feel as dramatically thin and overstretched as its source material admittedly was," Chang continues in his review.
"But as a musical valentine to a close-knit Latino community, an inspired swirl of hip-hop, Latin pop, salsa and other musical idioms, its pleasures are often glorious, even transporting. It summons — and for the most part sustains — the kind of visual and musical energy that might help give the movies the resurgent jab-in-the-arm summer they’ve been waiting for."
Written for the screen by Quiara Alegría Hudes — who also penned the book for the stage production — the movie musical features a cast including Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Melissa Barrera and Olga Merediz.
See what others have been saying about the soon-to-be summer blockbuster below.
"In The Heights presents a distinct and diverse version of Latino culture in the United States," writes Carlos Aguilar. "Washington Heights is a tapestry of its residents’ homelands: a bit Vega Alta, a bit Santo Domingo, and a mélange of other locations. Miranda and Hudes have captured a beautifully fragmented community that clings to what its members have in common while cognizant that they are not a monolith."
"'In The Heights’ slice-of-life portraiture suggests a less ambitious undertaking than Hamilton, but it tells a story as expansive as that of a fledgling nation," writes Danette Chavez.
"Through both musicals, Miranda demonstrates how ingrained people of color are in this country’s history: Before he reimagined a pivotal chapter in United States history with Black and Latinx actors, the acclaimed multi-hyphenate threw a spotlight on marginalized people’s fight against displacement. At the core of 'In The Heights,' on stage or screen, is movement — as migration, as immigration, as dancing, as code-switching, as the shift from friends to lovers. After nearly 13 years, it’s time for audiences to join the parranda."
But Why Tho?
"There is a lot I want to say about 'In the Heights.' I can talk about how it’s the most stunning example of Latinx joy I have ever seen on screen. I can talk about how it takes the very real struggle and elegantly presents [it] to an audience that may not know what it’s like," writes Kate Sánchez.
"I can talk about how I was Nina, in a place where everyone thought I didn’t belong, and how that fueled my imposter syndrome. I can talk about how the film’s most touching number isn’t one that comes from sadness, but instead, one calling for Latinx folks to raise our flags, to own our identities, and feel joy and strength with it. I can write about all of those things and somehow I would still not be able to capture the power and the beauty of 'In the Heights.'"
"All the actors perform beautifully in their musical numbers. Miranda and Chu bring out the best in all the actors, even those not trained as singers. Actors like Hawkins and Barrera, who are not known for their vocal abilities, shine here with beautiful renditions of their singing voice," writes Lupe R. Haas.
"Anthony Ramos, of course, is the heart of the movie. The actor is very charismatic and relatable. He holds the movie together even when the story ventures off to other character’s subplots. He tells a story in a riveting fashion that keeps your attention for over two hours."
"The simplicity of the tale belies the intoxicating nature of the music, from lovely ballads to a showstopping Busby Berkeley-style rendition of '96,000' at the local pool and a beautifully choreographed homage to Fred Astaire," writes Brian Lowry.
"Throughout, the movie bursts with energy and color, with shrewd casting choices from top to bottom, perhaps especially with Grace (a singer making her movie debut) and Barrera (who co-starred in the Starz series 'Vida')."
"For all its rich tapestry and radiant ingenues, it's that casual centering of so many marginalized voices that makes the movie feel, in its own way, revolutionary: a Technicolor marvel as heady as Old Hollywood, and as modern as this moment," writes Leah Greenblatt.
The Hollywood Reporter
"The movie glows with an abundance of love for its characters, their milieu and the pride with which they defend their cultural footprint against the encroaching forces of New York development that continually shove the marginalized further into the margins," writes David Rooney. "The resilience with which the characters claim their place in the fabric of city life is exhilarating."
"Even on its static Broadway set — shaken to life every night and twice on Sunday like a snow globe in a heatwave — 'In the Heights' was animated by its fevered insistence that home is something people take with them wherever they go," writes David Ehrlich.
"By cracking that snow globe open and watching it spill onto the actual streets of Washington Heights, Chu has created a film that makes you feel like its characters are dreaming with their eyes open. Here is a musical so magical and assured that even its missteps seem like good ideas."
Latino Entertainment Journalists Assn.
"[Chu's] direction of 'In The Heights' may have been scoffed at when announced but after seeing the film, it is hard to imagine any other director doing it justice," writes Toni Gonzales.
"Chu is able to capture the culture and with a justified reverence, make it sparkle and shine. Not an easy task to do, no doubt. But Chu does it brilliantly in his choice of choreographed dance scenes, shot selections, and — as the film says — with patience and faith."
New York Times
"Like Usnavi, the movie — bristling with ideas, verbal wit and musical invention — wears its heart on its sleeve," writes A.O. Scott. "It also reflects his virtues: generosity, decency, hard work, pride. Ramos’s charisma is perfectly suited to the role.
"His modesty is as winning and genuine as his bravado, and he’s a strong theatrical singer as well as a subtle film actor. It would be unfair to the rest of the wonderful cast — and false to the inclusive, familial spirit that makes 'In the Heights' so winning — to say he dominates the screen. He’s the one who keeps the party going, and the reason it’s happening at all."
"True, 'In The Heights' is a traditional movie musical, right down to its lavish Busby Berkeley-style production numbers. That doesn't diminish its significance," writes Raul A. Reyes. "For Latino audiences, it’s a chance to take pride in our culture. And for everyone else, it’s a reminder that Latinos live, work and pursue their dreams, just like other Americans.
"With its Spanglish, salsa dancing, and infectious beats, 'In The Heights' presents the Latino experience with authenticity and affection. It is a celebration of Latino heritage that America needs right now."
"Seeing Dominicans and Puerto Ricans take to the streets may not be as novel now as it was when 'In the Heights' hit Broadway, but it’s no less invigorating on the big screen," writes Peter Debruge. "Miranda’s terrific songs speak for themselves, leaving Chu to orchestrate the carnaval del barrio that does justice to everyday people of color. Holler!"
"The movie was shot on location in Washington Heights, lending it an immediacy that makes for a vibrant, occasionally dissonant combination with the outsized aesthetic of a studio musical," writes Bilge Ebiri.
"Chu simultaneously blends the casual, the lived-in and intimate with a traditional musical’s broad gestures and precise rhythms and dream logic, as the actors flip easily between the naturalistic and the theatrical."
"Melding rap, salsa, merengue and Latin pop, and name-checking the specific countries and cultures too often flattened out with the over-generalizing term 'Latino,' the big-screen version of 'In the Heights' preserves what might be Miranda’s most revolutionary accomplishment: reframing American musical theater within an entirely familiar — yet specific, authentic and invigorating — vernacular," writes Ann Hornaday.
We Live Entertainment
"From start to finish, 'In the Heights' is a musical odyssey," writes Adriana Gomez-Weston.
"The film opens with the upbeat title song, 'In the Heights,' then hits an early emotional note with 'Breathe.' Some other showstoppers are '96,000' and 'Carnaval del Barrio.' Overall, 'In the Heights' doesn’t have a song or moment that isn’t enjoyable. Once again, combined with the writing talents of Quiara Alegría Hudes, Lin-Manuel Miranda exhibits his amazing ability to intertwine words and sound to create something beautiful."
"With 'In the Heights,' Chu delivers the Latino equivalent of his previous box office smash 'Crazy Rich Asians' and knocks it out of the park," writes Monica Castillo.
"Like 'Crazy Rich Asians,' not everyone is going to feel represented when they watch 'In the Heights.' That’s an impossible task for any movie. Yet 'In the Heights' can represent many things for many different viewers. It can be a story about ambitious, hard-working people chasing their dreams. It can be a reflection on the immigrant experience and the struggle to find where you belong. It can also be a tribute to our parents’ sacrifices."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.