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Far Upper West Side Story

Warner Brothers Pictures

In the Heights (2021)

Somewhere buried deep within the “In the Heights” movie adaptation is the story of a people who feel neither at home in America nor privy to the American dream. But you must look hard past the glossy, neon-lit music video treatment of the Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes.

Though seemingly intended as an ensemble piece, the film centers on Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a Washington Heights bodega owner who dreams of a sunnier and more unfettered life in the Dominican Republic, and often gets sidetracked onto tangents by Nina (Leslie Grace), a first-generation college attendee struggling to fit in at Stanford, and Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), an aspiring fashion designer who works in a salon to make ends meet.

A comparison of track listings of the original Broadway cast recording with the movie soundtrack reveals that the musical numbers here are often out of order. More glaringly, seven numbers are cut from the film, five from act two alone. The excisions are probably done out of consideration of the film’s runtime, which is two hours and 24 minutes. Still, the whole thing feels rushed and decidedly lacking in impact.

Although the film production originated with Harvey Weinstein, it is stylistically different from the producer’s other notable Broadway musical adaptations, such as those helmed by Rob Marshall. Director Jon M. Chu homes his music video sensibilities in on big, bombastic numbers such as one involving synchronized swimming in the Highbridge Pool, but completely fumbles the smaller, intimate moments from which the audience is supposed to infer deeper meaning. Abuela’s (Olga Merediz) big scene could have used some of Mr. Marshall’s stagier, more dramatic flourishes.

Mr. Chu’s abrupt transitions between naturalistic street scenes and the soundstage are characteristic of an inconsistent and incoherent style. His end goal seems to be doing the mostest for each musical number, which doesn’t necessarily correspond to doing the bestest. The film ultimately comes off as a corporate vision of celebrating diversity: full of pageantry and empty promises.


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