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‘In the Heights’ Review: Reactions from a Musical Neophyte

In The Heights Film Review
Warner Bros. Pictures

This isn’t going to be your typical film review. Throw any action flick, comedy, drama, or even something along the lines of a French avant-garde arthouse movie my way and I’d feel more than qualified to review it. But the deeper I journeyed into watching “In the Heights,” the more I felt inadequately equipped to critique it with any sort of authority. So I won’t.

Prior to “In the Heights,” the last musical I had probably watched was 2017’s “The Greatest Showman.” Before that, who knows. Musicals just aren’t my thing. My inability to adequately appreciate song and dance to the degree in which they deserve is simply an artistic failure on my part. But one’s tastes are one’s tastes, as they say, so all I can do is keep an open mind and try out new experiences along the way.

Accordingly, instead of critiquing “In the Heights,” I’ll simply offer my reactions. Those who feel similar to myself with regard to musicals can then judge if it’s a film they might want to try. Alternatively, those who are musical aficionados are free to gawk at my outsider perspective.

“In the Heights” is the film adaptation of the wildly successful Broadway show with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also starred in the production as the protagonist Usnavi. The film version follows Anthony Ramos as the lead, a sympathetic New York bodega proprietor who spends his days dreaming of a better life beyond the confines of his New York neighborhood, Washington Heights.

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The biggest takeaway from the film is that there’s so much music! Too much, even. Which sounds ridiculous given that this is indeed a musical I’m reviewing, however my limited experience with the genre sets the expectation that the film would be more evenly balanced between musical numbers and plot.

Overall, the musical beats are compelling and the choreography is downright captivating. But throughout the nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime, all that singing and dancing begins to produce diminishing returns.

Lin-Manuel Miranda indeed appears in the film roaming the streets as a seller of shaved ice, acting as a narrator of sorts. But for someone who originated nearly everything that “In the Heights” represents, it comes off as both surprising and rather disappointing at how limited his screen time actually is.

Lastly, the writers and producers and director of “In the Heights” are free to insert any messaging that they choose. One of the more poignant points of view they chose to feature were certain political criticisms. Cinema is a medium through which it is essential to address issues afflicting our society at large. However, the manner in which it was expressed in this particular film felt forced, sticking out like a sore thumb. Ultimately, I just wanted to soak in the jubilant nature of a musical for a couple hours. Having the putrid baggage of politics foisted upon me instantly snapped me out of that blissful trance, out of The Heights, and into a place that we all wish wasn’t our disturbing reality.

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Rating: N/A