In the Heights (2021)
June 11, 2021 2:37 PM - Subscribe

Adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes' Tony Award-winning musical about an immigrant community in Washington Heights, NYC.

In theaters and streaming on HBOMAX.
posted by lunasol (19 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
i was almost tearing up at this celebration of culture(s). So many stated and unstated things to be understood at different levels. beautiful!
posted by alchemist at 1:15 AM on June 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

I never saw the Broadway show - I remember finding the tv ad that ran for it on the local news channels spectacularly annoying (in a 'hit the mute button quickly' earwormy way), but then regretting I'd missed it once the Hamilton soundtrack phenomenon hit. So, I was looking forward to seeing this production.

I liked it, but didn't love it. The songs didn't make me want to get the soundtrack to sing along to alone in my car umpteen times, though it was interesting to hear the future echoes of Hamilton in the style of it all.

But I was extremely impressed by how cinematic it was. Like, with a lot of stage shows adapted to film, you can see where the seams are between the stage settings and the movie-only-set-pieces. But this was seamless. Not just the big giant numbers like at the pool, or using the dancing-on-the-ceiling camera trick for Benny & Nina's number on the side of the apartment building, or the fireworks & blackout, but all the different exterior locations for the various walk/sing-and-talk scenes, or the loving close-ups of all of the food at the dinner for Nina (mmm that ropa vieja). It just felt like it could only have ever been done as a movie.
posted by oh yeah! at 6:07 AM on June 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

I've listened to the Broadway soundtrack a few dozen time and, um, am familiar with the Broadway stage show. So I'm predisposed to like this movie and I flat out LOVED it. I saw it on the big screen with a friend of mine who is huge into musicals, and we both thought that there's no reason to prefer either the stage show or the film.

I cried a LOT. And since I know the show, I was even able to cry at foreshadowings.

Loved most of the changes made from the stage show. Some of them were super cheesy to me or felt hamfisted, but they still felt close enough to Lin Manuel's voice that I'm not going to roll my eyes or fastforward upon rewatches.

The way this film exploded the the character of the location was incredible. A whole aspect of the stage show that was present-but-muted got to come to the forefront in a vivid, magical way that felt appropriate (film doing what stage can't). (If they tried to do something similar with Hamilton, I'd be less interested, because there isn't an equally vivid sense of place that I want to see realized.)

Overall, it's wonderful and magical, and hopes it sweeps a bunch of awards next season.
posted by itesser at 12:37 PM on June 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

The music is more the side of Miranda's work that I find unengaging (the more traditional musical numbers), but it was nice to see such a generous view of city life in a poorer neighborhood. It's something you see less and less of these days; either you get harsh realism (which has its place) or this kind of neighborhood is just forgotten or seen only from the outside.
posted by praemunire at 1:36 PM on June 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

The pool, the salon and the sideways fire escape numbers were outstanding. Such a good movie to come back to theaters for the first time in over a year for.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:01 PM on June 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

I'll get the nitpicks out of the way first:
1) I didn't get why Cuca (the new salon lady) was a character in this movie. She doesn't have any significant effect on plot or characterization.
2) I didn't like the pacing of the last half of the movie. In the Broadway show, there's more time for the audience to kind of sit with the characters' loss of Abuela Claudia. Also, some of the lyrics that got changed to accommodate plot changes were kind of clunky.
3) I'm glad they gave Vanessa more to do, but I thought the part at the end with her clothing designs didn't really connect well with Usnavi's decision, and it made the ending feel muddled.
4) I didn't need the framing device at all, but will concede that it might have been necessary for someone who had never seen or heard the Broadway show.

That said, there was so much to like about this. It's really amazing to watch songs that I love (like In the Heights and 96,000) be staged with enormous dance groups and astonishingly athletic choreography. I really want to see this a few more times because I don't think I took in nearly enough of this. I also really loved the shots of random people in the neighborhood doing lots of different jobs in the opening number. It was great to see a little bit beyond the 12 or so characters the movie focused on.

I was very tickled by Chris Jackson (who's collaborated with Lin for like 15 years) playing the Piragua Guy's arch-nemesis.

The cast was charming, both of the romantic pairings had good chemistry, and there's what my husband called the "close-ups of Anthony Ramos' beautiful face for two and half hours" factor.
posted by creepygirl at 7:29 PM on June 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

I hope you all stayed for the piragua stinger at the end of the credits!

Also loved "You'll Be Back" in muzak form as hold music when Jimmy Smits was on the phone.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:04 PM on June 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

I am not a fan of musicals 99% of the time and I absolutely loved this! Great music, beautiful cinematography and choreography. I also rarely cry at movies and teared up when Abuela Claudia died.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:50 AM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I somehow became aware of the Broadway show and cast recording as a baby college freshman over a decade ago and was utterly obsessed, so I went in with high hopes and was not disappointed! (My boyfriend, who was a bit trepidatious over the whole "movie musical" and "Broadway rap" thing, also cried at several points. Lotta first-gen immigrant, first-gen college student feels in this household.)

The big set pieces were appropriately cinematic - the only thing I thought didn't translate quite as well from stage to screen was the blackout in the nightclub. The added plot about Sonny, etc was a bit klunky, but in a very earnest Lin-Manuel Miranda way that made it endearing instead of cringey. Overall very glad to see it on the big screen at last!
posted by btfreek at 11:45 AM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I was slightly puzzled by the ages of the characters. At one point, Usnavi says he's nearly 30. And he and Vanessa were in classes together, so they must be about the same age. But Vanessa in particular read a good bit younger to me (especially her behavior in the club). Meanwhile, Nina is a college freshman and it seems she went to school with Benny, so he's about her age. So a good ten year age gap between the couples, but they're all good friends? I didn't question it at the time because the actors all can pass for about the same age, but on reflection I was a little confused.
posted by praemunire at 12:15 PM on June 14, 2021

Jason, I noticed the hold music, but forgot to mention. Nice Easter egg.
posted by DebetEsse at 12:16 PM on June 14, 2021

I loved this - saw it in the theater on Friday, then watched it again on HBOMAX Saturday. Cried throughout both times! I thought they did an amazing job adapting it, by really leaning into the things you can do on film that you can't do on the stage - not just the spectacular musical numbers, but also intimate moments like the dinner party. That scene felt so real and lived-in, I could have been there. (I wanted to be there!)

There's been a lot of really good critique of the film's colorist casting by the Afro-Caribbean/Afro-Latino community. It does seem like such a missed opportunity. I thought LMM's response/apology was really strong, though it's not really my place to say whether or not it's good enough.

I was slightly puzzled by the ages of the characters.

As a fan of the stage show, I've been trying to figure this out for years, ha. I did read at one point that Nina and Vanessa were both supposed to be 19 and Benny/Usnavi were supposed to be 27. Which ... yikes, that's not great. (And I'm not sure if that came from an official source) So it's probably better to leave things vague. It seemed in the movie they wanted both couples to be around the same age as each other, but that would make Usnavi a LOT older than Benny for how close friends they seemed to be.

Otherwise, they made a lot of changes from the original, and some of those hurt but I think overall it made for a better viewing experience. The second act drags a bit on stage, but they definitely tightened things up.

I'm also glad the film takes Sonny's politics more seriously. In the play, he's pretty much strictly a comic relief character, and his politics are seen as sort of cute and non-threatening. They give his politics more weight in the film by 1. Having Nina share them (in the play he's the only one thinking about these things) and 2. Making him a Dreamer, so the stakes are higher.
posted by lunasol at 9:58 AM on June 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

I must know what was cooking in the pot on the stove. It looked delicious.
posted by emelenjr at 10:54 AM on June 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I’m glad everyone loved this. I was pretty lukewarm on it. One complaint I have about this film (and a lot of recent movie musicals) is the way the dance scenes are edited to look like a music video. Too many cuts makes it harder to appreciate these great dancers. (In my mind this goes back to Chicago where it was used to hide less than great dancers). Just give me more long master shots and let me see them DANCE.

In the category of LMM movie musicals, Moana >> In the Heights.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 5:30 AM on June 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

I must know what was cooking in the pot on the stove. It looked delicious.

It was Ropa Vieja. It's a dish made of shredded meat and a highly flavored tomato sauce. Normally eaten over rice. One of my favorite childhood dishes.
posted by heathrowga at 8:10 AM on June 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Finally saw this last night and really loved it. When I saw Hamilton on B'way I realized that the biggest difficulty in adapting it to film would be simply that it's not only not written for screen, but leans way the fuck into all the things musical theatre can do because it doesn't have access to Film's main advantages (e.g. editing, a camera that can go anywhere...) and so takes full advantage of the ways that the audience will stretch their ingrained sense of story structure while watching a staged musical.

Specifically what made me realize this is Phillip's duel, and how in a film version of this story you'd want - need, even - to build the elements and events leading up to that. Schoolmates talking behind Phillip's back, then later unafraid to say shit to his face, then the duel is set up, then he comes to Alexander for advice, then that advice goes badly when the duel finally takes place. But all of these things would be intercut with all the other business going on (political whispers about the Maria Reynolds affair, the blackmail, the fallout in DC, Eliza finding out and excoriating Alexander, etc.) because it's late in Act 2 and you're building momentum for your break into Act 3 (in Screenwriting Structure terms) and setting up your All Is Lost moment with "It's Quiet Uptown" before Act 3 can rip into its big finale. What you'd never want to do is go from Eliza (symbolizing the last person to know) essentially kicking Alexander to the couch, finally over to Phillip - who we haven't seen in a while - going through all of theses steps at once and then dying in the duel - and then back to Eliza as she makes up with Alexander through their shared grief. THat'd be terrible and momentum-killing.

But, of course, it's precisely what the musical does because you use a different language of storytelling, where subplots are categorized into single numbers, those numbers are tied by themes if an arc really needs to established through the whole piece, and rather than camera movement and cuts you can use actor movements around the stage and hide changes of "space" via qualified French Scenes where the supporting actors around the lead in the number shift around. And as long as it's on-stage, the audience accepts it. Which means a 7-10 split for someone adapting that to screen, because they either do the structurally wrong thing for film, keeping the number intact, or else chop up the number, which is probably a non-starter for any myriad reasons.

So I know Hamilton backwards and forwards but came into this one pretty blind except for knowing LMM's style. I expected it to have the same issues with adaptation that his other big show would have. And it does, absolutely. The numbers force it into an episodic structure that film, especially today, teaches audiences to register as "wrong" (though it's almost certainly easier than Hamilton in this regard in that so many of the big numbers are ensemble pieces that allow us to "check in" on where certain plot threads are for a couple of lines. Hamilton's Act II doesn't do this as much.)

So I like Chu's decision to effectively take what's on stage, bite the bullet structurally, and use all the tools film has at its disposal to amp the spectacle up to eleven in order to power through any potential objections. And even that isn't nearly as easy as it looks. For one thing, he's trying to show us all sorts of things we haven't seen in a movie before, from the building-dancing to the push-in on Usnavi staring out the window while the dancers in the street are reflected in it. in any case, Chu simply overwhelms us with spectacle, finding creative and unexpected ways to express things in big, big ways.

For me, the first instance where I got "overwhelmed" was with the fabric samples unfurling in the wind over the apartment buildings during Vanessa's first number. But then Chu kept going bigger - a tough thing to do when you're already having to go deep into magical realism from the get-go. I was thus teary for almost the entire runtime.

In short, this show shouldn't work on screen. It's overly long, even the leads get not enough time to effectively tell their stories with anything like subtlety, the little bit of non-sung dialog has to be rendered down to mostly clichés, etc. etc. Chu pushes forward by going absolutely for broke with the spectacle, taking something like the Baz Luhrmann style of forcing the audience into a heightened reality through sheer force of will, but going further with it than even Luhrmann ever has, and grounding it in the "little details" of the community. I don't mind the music-video cutting at all (it totally lands for me in a way that just setting down the camera to focus on the dancing can make me start paying attention to choreography instead of getting swept away) but I also like how he dealt with the recitative (something I think LMM is really gifted at) by, for instance, turning the "Champagne" number into something like Lisa Loeb's "Stay" video, with no cuts, just furiously following Vanessa and Usnavi around the bare apartment. That shows a good instinct for knowing just how heightened the reality should be for any given moment, and it's key to why this worked despite all.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:19 AM on July 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm late to the party but finally got to watch this in the theater and loved it. One question -- when Usnavi is talking to Sammy's dad midway through the movie about his desire to take Sammy to the D.R., and the dad asks, "How do you pay Sammy?" and Usnavi says, "Cash", is the dad asking that to remind Usnavi that Sammy is undocumented and wouldn't be able to return to the U.S.? I was confused by that scene and wasn't sure if the audience was supposed to be confused, or if the audience was supposed to understand that Sammy was undocumented before it was explicitly explained at the Dreamers rally?
posted by rogerroger at 3:55 PM on July 15, 2021

I'm not even sure that Usnavi knew Sammy was undocumented. But it was to tell/remind/suggest to him that Sammy was getting paid under the table because he didn't have the legal right to work.
posted by praemunire at 5:17 PM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

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