In The Heights

Before Lin-Manuel Miranda exploded with “Hamilton” he tasted success with “In The Heights.” The autobiographical homage to a literal corner of the world in which he grew up, the musical is a rosy lensed view of life in Washington Heights. What started Off Broadway migrated to Broadway and was inevitably eyed by Hollywood. Originally set to be helmed by Kenny Ortega, eventually Jon M. Chu took over the director’s chair, hot from his success with “Crazy Rich Asians.” If there was any chatter about a cultural mismatch about Chu, I don’t recall. And that’s a good thing.

The result is a frothy and jubilant if lengthy romp.

Anthony Ramos as the lead is tremendous. Set in flashback, he tells a group of kids the story of his bodega and the vibrant life around him. They watch him wide-eyed, and the film cuts back in time to replay the story. The interplay of various Caribbean cultures blend harmoniously, with the only friction from the non-Latin community. Jimmy Smits is the avuncular role, and his backstory as budding entrepreneur Kevin Rosario is instructive. Melissa Barrera and Leslie Grace are lovely in the roles of romantic interests. 

Miranda has a role a bit bigger than a cameo, but one he wanted to survive any cuts so he was convinced to take the role.

The film tends to drag in the middle third, which may be a result of the inevitable shape shifting when the production moved from a two act musical with an intermission to a film (was “The Sound of Music” the last theatrical release with an intermission?).

The big emotional moment that ended the first act when performed live is moved toward the end of the film, leaving about 20 drifting minutes in the middle of the film.

Chu handles the complex song and dance routines with aplomb, but despite several songs being cut for the film, it still runs long. But in the end, the payoff is worth it.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.