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In the Heights (2021) | Review

by Sian Wallace

It wasn’t until I was walking home that I realised what a large part of my life I had been missing by not being able to visit the cinema for so long.

When I got back from an advance screening of the film adaptation of In The Heights, I described the experience to my flatmate as a two-week-long holiday to New York in the space of two hours. In The Heights draws on the experiences from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s youth. It follows protagonist Usnavi and his friends and neighbours as they chase dreams of breaking free from expectations and from fears associated with being of Latin-American descent and living in an impoverished area of New York.

My knowledge of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work and history is very limited, so this particular film would not be my first choice for my long-awaited return to a theatre seat, but, as it turned out, the story contained just the kind of jubilant energy that I had been missing the most. I maintain that this production may be one of the best examples of a stage musical translated into film. The bright set and attentively choreographed dances caught me pleasantly unaware – especially in the wake of problematic and misjudged attempts such as Tom Hooper’s 2019 adaptation of Cats.

photo courtesy of imdb

I had a clear sense that In the Heights was a labour of love, involving its audience, and distracting us effortlessly from how empty the theatre felt due to distancing measures.

photo courtesy of imdb

I am sincerely hopeful that Anthony Ramos’ screen-stealing performance lands him the pick of starring roles for years to come.

In the midst of cameos and call-backs to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s most famous work, Hamilton, Ramos holds his own. He leaves behind his legacy as Miranda’s on-screen son and leads a shining cast full of strong examples of what the next generation of acting and musical talent has in store.

I highly recommend this tale of perseverance and hope in the face of financial difficulty, as a perfect summary of the sense of community that has been rising in most of us during such anxious times. This film is only one example of the deluge of new media in the pipeline, held back from release by the crisis of the pandemic. I eagerly await further projects due for release over the coming months, as the world starts to slowly return to normal and reflect on the isolation that we have all experienced.


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