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In The Heights

"a great and brave piece of filmmaking. Go."

★★★★★ - STUFF 

- Lin-Manuel Miranda delivers a stunning musical and bravura film - 

Regular readers of these rantings – Hi Mum! - will know that I am no great fan of musicals. Or, more exactly, I guess I just don't get the charm of musicals adapted for screen.

I've sat through dozens of filmed iterations of box office-smashing stage shows, and I've come away with still no real idea as to why people like them so darn much. So while I appreciate that it takes enormous amounts of talent, passion and artistry to get a show on stage and even more of the same to transfer a show to film, I still wander home after a screening, wondering whether that fine word “Meh” would make it past the sub-editors and what the next 499 or so are even going to say.

Although, y'know, every dog has its day and rules are made to be broken. Even I wasn't completely immune to the charms of Mamma Mia! and the sequel. And there were whole minutes in Les Miserables which I pretty much enjoyed from beginning to end. But, I'm pretty sure that I haven't flat-out loved a musical until In The Heights

In The Heights has been a phenomenon on Broadway, running for three years across 1100 performances. It has toured the world, won awards and been greeted with acclaim and – actual – dancing in the aisles everywhere from Denmark to Panama. Co-creator Lin-Manuel Miranda went on to create global sensation Hamilton, but In The Heights was his first triumph.

The story is pure musical boilerplate. We are in the New York suburb of Washington Heights, way up in the high numbers of the west of Manhattan, a few miles and a dozen income brackets away from the leafy opulence of the Upper West Side. Washington Heights is a gritty, hard-working, hard-bitten community of mainly migrant families, with an economy based on an intricate eco-system of family-owned small businesses. 

Miranda and co-creator Quiara Alegría Hudes lay out a simple-enough tale of thwarted love, the struggle to achieve the dream of owning a business and families fighting to stay together in the face of conflicts and crisis. It's a plot that has been the stuff of musicals, novels and movies for as long as the mediums have existed.

The genius of In The Heights is in the music that drives and narrates the storyline. These songs are a raucous, glorious and immensely tuneful and skilful blend of samba, jazz, pop and hip-hop that come ringing out of the movie at every conceivable moment. There are 18 musical numbers in the film, and there is not one dud among them. These are simply the best songs I have ever heard in a movie, and they just don't stop coming. The show-stopping, West Side Story-meets-Busby Berkeley 96,000 might be the “hit” from In The Heights, but there are another dozen here that are just as strong.

Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) and Miranda insisted on shooting In The Heights in the actual streets of New York. It's a tough decision that has yielded indelible results. 

Shooting on location generates a tension and sublimated chaos that lifts this film to places a studio-based shoot would never attain. There is still absolute rehearsed precision in every dance move, but also a freshness and spontaneity about these performances that – in moments – bursts out of the confines of the genre and right off the screen.

In the Heights isn't just a great musical. It's a great and brave piece of filmmaking. Go. 

- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF 

In The Heights is now playing at Light House Cinema! 


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