In The Heights Review: Jon M. Chu’s Magic Touch Makes This Musical One Of The Year’s Best Films

Ever since Hamilton became a smash hit (both on Broadway and through streaming), Hollywood has been happy to grab a piece of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s portfolio whenever it can. In The Heights is a perfect example of a project that benefitted from Miranda’s meteoric rise, as the long in development film adaptation finally got off the ground in a post-Hamilton world. Over a decade has passed since development of the production first started, and it’s an absolute joy to say that director Jon M. Chu’s magic touch has made the musical one of the year’s best films.

At the core of In The Heights, the story of Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and his dream to return to the Dominican Republic, is very much a tale that could seem familiar. As ne narrates the story of a few fateful days in Washington Heights, an overarching theme plays out about what it means to be a part of a community. It’s here that the movie puts a unique spin on the themes of big dreamers in the big city, as instead of celebrating or cursing New York City, the musical keeps its focus squarely on the people doing the dreaming.

Fans of the Broadway show and curious newcomers alike will be blown away by In The Heights’ bombastic yet touching story.

Building a strong following since its stage run in the mid-aughts, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ smash hit musical has come along at the best time possible. In The Heights’ timely story has a topical message that feels right at home in a musical setting. The running theme of dreams and dealing with the obstacles that are presented to stand in their way is a classic foundation that’s reinvigorated by the way that Huedes adapts her own book into the realities of today.

While the original story from In The Heights’ stage version has been tweaked, it shouldn’t turn those familiar with the original musical away from the new set of twists and turns. The fundamental bones of In The Heights are still there, but as any musical fan will tell you, changes to create a more cinematic experience are almost always expected. It doesn’t stop Anthony Ramos from anchoring a marvelous cast, who come together to tell a tale of how love, community, and sueñito unite us all, no matter who we are.

Jon M. Chu’s directorial expertise prevents In The Heights from becoming too stagey, creating a true movie musical.

A huge pitfall that most movie musicals find themselves subjected to is the fact that, most of the time, the film version finds itself too married to the staging of a show. A movie like In The Heights could find itself limited by the vision of the director, but thanks to Jon M. Chu’s credentials helming features like chapters of the Step Up franchise, this stage adaptation takes full advantage of the space and the dancing abilities its cast have to work with.

There’s also a beautiful blending of realities, as In The Heights does have some fantastical visual flourishes in its cinematic retelling. Again, Chu’s visual style is more of a fitting accent than a distraction, as moments of heightened musical reality only serve to enhance the overall experience. You might even find yourself distracted by the fact that you’ve been moved to tears – and you absolutely will be before the music ends.

In The Heights is an explosively beautiful cinematic experience, and easily one of the best films of the year so far.

2021 is going to be a year that sees theater owners and studios pushing audiences to experience their films on the big screen, and when that movie happens to be something like In The Heights, that push is well justified. Every aspect of Jon M. Chu’s retelling of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ beautiful ode to the dreams and pride that make us who we are bursts into life in the theatrical experience.

While it’s massive in visual scope, In The Heights never loses focus on the characters of its world, wrapping its songs and story around a warm, beating heart that shows a community proud to be who it is. It's a movie that sees itself, and its characters, as it does its audience: proudly, with much needed warmth and humor. Dreams like this, whether they be large or small, need a big screen to be truly seen; and In The Heights is absolutely worthy of being made into a big time moviegoing experience.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.