GOOD Morning Wilton‘s movie reviewer, Sebastian Hunt, is a recent graduate of Wilton High School who loves film and television and hopes to become a filmmaker himself one day. He’s already gotten a jump start on that, producing his own screenplays and planning on submitting his work to film festivals. You can learn more about Sebastian on GMW‘s “Our Team” page. 

Jon M. Chu’s In the Heights is an unwieldy and perhaps overlong cinematic creature, but it possesses an unabashed ambiance of earnestness that inclines me to forgive its more egregious (often autotune related) flaws. Plus, the music — I can overlook a lot in the name of good music.

In the Heights mostly maintains the story of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acclaimed musical. Taking place over three-ish days, the film follows a quartet of people based in Washington Heights: shopkeeper Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), manicurist Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), Ivy League student Nina (Leslie Grace), and taxi dispatcher Benny (Corey Hawkins). While some characters are afforded more screen time and prominence than others, In the Heights is, by and large, an ensemble feature and largely employs a vignette style in depicting the everyday, music-infused happenings of its main players.

The host of fresh dramatic blood boasted by In the Heights easily proves its strongest asset. Occasional autotune-adjacent hindrances notwithstanding, nearly every major performer feels like nothing short of a revelation. I hesitate to name favorites, but Grace and Ramos certainly emerged as the highlights for me.

Ironically, the components involving original In the Heights veterans actually prove the film’s weak points. While Miranda — here portraying the fan-favorite Mr. Piragüero in an extended cameo — continues to possess tenuous singing abilities, Olga Merediz endures a massively truncated reprised role as Abuela Claudia.

Furthermore, the screenplay (courtesy of Quaria Algría Hudes, who authored the book for the Broadway production of In the Heights) is mildly problematic. Despite maintaining the vigor of In the Heights’ thematic underpinnings and wisely prioritizing music as its primary storytelling instrument, Hudes’ script comes off a bit like a simultaneous attempt to abbreviate and expand upon the musical’s narrative. Handfuls of characters and plotlines are abridged while others are erroneously aggrandized.

What makes it all worth it — aside from the cast, at least — is the soundtrack. If the primary function of a musical is to provide rousing lyrical melodies, then In the Heights is a resounding success. Hardly five minutes after the credits rolled, I found myself involuntarily humming the film’s exquisite compositions; In the Heights has effortlessly converted me into a fan of all things Lin-Manuel Miranda.

In the Heights probably won’t have the same lasting impact as its Broadway counterpart, yet it is easy to imagine this film becoming something of a touchstone for musical fans nonetheless. This is a rare adaptation totally unashamed of its source material, which bodes well for the all-but-inevitable Hamilton film. It’s also about a jillion times better than Cats, so there’s that.

Ratings Key:

★ – Bad (e.g., Transformers, Pixels, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Justice League

★★ – Mediocre (e.g., Incredibles 2, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Super 8, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle)

★★★ – Good (e.g., Pretty in Pink, Batman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)

★★★★ – Great (e.g., Jurassic Park, The Empire Strikes Back, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Social Network)

★★★★★ – Amazing (e.g., Dr. Strangelove, The Terminator, Do the Right Thing, Toy Story, Parasite)