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Film Review: In The Heights

11:00 June 18, 2021
By: Fritz Esker

Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) brings Lin-Manuel Miranda's award-winning stage musical In the Heights (in theaters and on HBO Max) to the big screen with mixed results.

While the film follows a large cast of characters (sometimes too big for the movie's own good), its main character is Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a bodega owner in Washington Heights who dreams of returning home to open a beach bar in his native Dominican Republic. There are also stories about Nina (Leslie Grace), an overachiever who has returned home from Stanford, and Benny (Corey Hawkins), Nina's ex who works dispatch for Nina's father's (Jimmy Smits) car company.

On the plus side, the main characters are likable and Chu does make the musical numbers feel cinematic. However, one of the challenges of adapting books or stage musicals to film is both are almost always longer than movies. So tough choices have to be made to cut material to keep the film running smoothly. At 143 minutes, In the Heights feels long. It could've been cut to the 120 to 125-minute range without losing anything in terms of story or character. For example, a minor character who owns a salon gets a lengthy musical number late in the film when she leaves the neighborhood. It's completely unnecessary, stalls the story's momentum, and adds several minutes to the running time.

Fans of Miranda or the original musical will likely find things to enjoy here, but In the Heights falls short of being magical.

**1/2 stars (out of four)

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