David Fox: The pressure’s on, isn’t it, Cameron? Director Jon M. Chu’s film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights seems almost to dare us not to love it. Miranda is as close to a universally adored and respected artist as anyone I can think of, and the excitement around this project is considerable. And, of course, we’re also two gay White guys writing about a Latinx experience that is not ours. But—deep breath—here I go. To start: I’ve rarely felt so many divided emotions as I do about this film. I almost wish I could write two different reviews. On a gut level, it’s irresistible: emotional, colorful, joyous, inspirational; brimming with energy, talent, and tunefulness. I will have more to say about those things, though I almost wish I could just stop there. But I also think Miranda’s signature optimism is often peculiarly out of kilter with the story here, and neither the narrative structure nor the score of In the Heights for me have sufficient specificity, variety or range. Okay, that’s my opening salvo. What do you think?
Cameron Kelsall: My first thought is that In the Heights has come around at exactly the right moment. For one thing, we’re starved for a good movie musical, especially since the last high-profile project to debut pre-pandemic was—spit on the ground—Cats. Chu and Miranda, along with screenwriter Quiara Alegria Hudes, certainly best that effort by a country mile—or, I should say, by a wide city block. But more importantly, as the world re-emerges after so much devastation and heartache over the last 15 months, the particular impact of an uplifting, exuberant story like the one told here cannot be overstated. That’s especially true when you consider In the Heights as a love letter not only to New York, but to what makes New York special—the fabric and flavor of the micro-communities like the predominantly Dominican and Puerto Rican Washington Heights where it’s set. I didn’t find it a perfect musical when I first saw it on Broadway in 2008, and I don’t think it’s a perfect movie now. But I came away largely charmed and frequently smiling…
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Categories: General Ramblings, Movies, PARTERRE BOX, Theater
Thanks for looking at this film. I was charmed by the onstage version in Los Angeles. And I thought Chu did a great job on Crazy Rich Asians, AND I wanted to like this film desperately. However, the hyperkinetic direction – as David pointed out – was too much here, and the Disney-Kenny Ortega choreography didn’t do the Latin movement vocabulary justice. The Daphne Rueben Vega sequence had the right tone, and she was a treat to see. The best “number,” however, was the Cuban-esque subway sequence because it was the most theatrical and actually packed an emotional punch, telling a story that touched our hearts. When will directors stop diluting what makes stage productions so meaningful? When you look at the old movie musicals, be it Westside Story or the Rogers and Hammerstein canon, they succeed not so much because they opened up the stage productions but because they kept the heart and dove even deeper into what worked on stage.