by Ian Morton
Cinema is full of strange coincidences, whether it be a film releasing at the perfect time to inspire, give hope in times of need or reflect the frustrations of a lost generation, stars often strangely align to provide the perfect remedy when you most need it. In The Heights is the latest in a long line of coincidences that leans on one of the oldest genres in Hollywood – the musical – to reinvigorate the audience and provide a little light during the dark times we live in.
With the original novelist Quiara Alegría Hudes writing the screenplay and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the talented playwright and lyricist, who originally brought the project to the theatre behind the scenes, there is a recipe for success here that can’t be denied. For Hudes, this marks a feature writing debut, for Miranda, this marks another of his stage creations to the big screen with all the hallmark characteristics the actor is known for. I say ‘other’, but it all depends on whether you count the screen adaptation of his other hit musical, Hamilton – available on Disney+ – as the first of his transitions from stage to screen or not. In either case however, its widespread availability isn’t something we can just freely ignore and it’s probably fair to say if you liked Hamilton, you’re probably going to like this too!
Marked with a familiar bouncing cadence and rhythm of the songwriter, the scene is set nice and early, opening with a big musical number that not only introduces our leading cast but also gives us a geography lesson on just where In The Heights is set and exactly what is it we are going to be watching over the course of the next 2 and a half hours. The entire scene bursts at the seams with excitement, pulling the audience almost to their feet as we begin our journey following the happenings of a small community in the Washington Heights area of New York City and doesn’t stop until a final end credits scene (yes, apparently its not just Marvel doing this now).
Whilst Hudes and Miranda are responsible for both the loving characters and toe-tapping soundtrack, director John M. Chu does a great job at bringing this world to life, instantly giving life to the small block and making you believe that these characters inhabit a world in which anyone can burst into song at any moment. There are a few missteps involving more fantastical set pieces that don’t quite work in the world Chu creates, but these pale in comparison to the marvellous swimming pool scene; a musical set piece that juxtaposes the sunset laden house party scene from 2016’s La La Land with a public pool lottery ticket treasure hunt.
As we head into the warmer months and the mercury begins to rise, there might not be a better film to mark the summer than this. It’s a lovingly put together celebration of culture, heritage and love within society, with the added bonus of a soundtrack worthy of any Spotify playlist. Given the ups and downs of the last 18 months, it might actually be the coincidental tonic to see us through tough times.
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