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‘In the Heights’ a cinematic celebration of family, chasing down your dreams

Movies

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“In the Heights” brings together “Hamilton” creator Lin Manuel Miranda together with “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu. The result is a gorgeous, warm-hearted, life-affirming film that feels like a celebration of family relationships and chasing your dreams as much as it does a movie. If you’re looking for pure joy expressed through the art of cinema, this is it.

Based on the stage play of the same name, “In the Heights” introduces a large cast of characters who populate the largely Latin New York neighborhood of Washington Heights, led by Usnavi (Anthony Ramos). Usnavi runs the corner bodega but dreams of purchasing his father’s bar in the Dominican Republic. He also has his eye on Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), a lovely hairdresser who longs to move downtown and become a fashion designer.

Meanwhile, Nina (Leslie Grace) returns home after a year away at college, feeling directionless and not wanting to go back. She reunites with her ex, Benny (Corey Hawkins), who tries to help her figure herself out. There is lots of music and dancing, even fireworks as the film unfurls its narrative of intergenerational family love and working to keep your dreams alive.

Maybe it’s because we just started going back to the movies after the isolation and depression of dealing with COVID, but this movie just seemed more vibrant, more colorful, more thoughtful and more moving than any theatrical experience I’ve had in years. From the close-ups of the film’s attractive cast to the sunset-drenched establishing shots that pop up throughout the film, the visuals are just so pretty.

It helps that Chu is a fantastic director who knows how to capture his stories in the most visually compelling ways possible. The Washington Heights of this movie is realistic enough to be relatable but colorful and magical enough to feel like something out of a dream. He masterfully creates the right tone to tell this story and his every decision works to uphold the idea that The Heights is a real place, but not too real to feel magical and romantic.

Chu gets some great performances from his cast, too. Singing and emoting on-screen present different issues and even the best actor can struggle to pull it off. Ramos is a terrific leading man, a guy who’s likable enough to root for but not overly perfect. He and Barrera create some sparks in their scenes together, and you end up wanting to see them end up together.

The relationship between Grace and Hawkins is equally great, with a bit of a different feel to it. While Usnavi’s awkwardness around Vanessa speaks to the fact that he’s wanted her for a long time and hasn’t taken his shot, Nina and Benny feel like a couple that’s been through some issues together, knows one another’s weaknesses, and like each other anyway.

Other great performances that need mentioning: Jimmy Smits, as Nina’s dad and owner of the local dispatch Kevin Rosario, is always good. Here, he plays Kevin as a loving father who might not get the pressure he’s putting on his daughter and he kills it. Olga Meridez is the soul of the movie as Abuela Claudia, as sweet and loving a matriarch as you’ll see in film.

Of course, they all have to sing, too. And the musical numbers in the movie are standouts. From the massive opening number, “In the Heights,” which introduces the cast to “Paciencia y Fe,” to Abuela Claudio’s magic moment of memory and celebration of heritage, Miranda’s songs pulse with Latin rhythms, passion and love of music while Chu always finds the right visual representations of the emotions the songs are expressing. And all I have to say about “When the Sun Goes Down” is that Spider Man better burst into song in his next movie or he’s not going to top this.

WATCH THE TRAILER ABOVE.

4 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on EastIdahoNews.com.

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