By Casey Campbell
I’ll preface this by admitting I’m not a huge fan of musicals, for no reason other than I haven’t seen too many and don’t have much of an inclination to watch many more. Why watch In The Heights then? Well, it was on HBO Max for “free” and being able to shut something off that you’re not into is always an option. But I didn’t need to shut it off. In The Heights is worth a watch if you’re in the mood for a movie with a heart beat and fun music.
I haven’t been following much movie news recently, and thus didn’t see any marketing for this movie at all. I went in entirely blind, not even knowing that Lin-Manuel Miranda was behind the music (I really enjoyed Hamilton when it came out on Disney+), or what the story was about. It follows the inhabitants of the incredibly vibrant New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights as they parse their individual meanings in the world. The songs feel reminiscent in style and rhythm to the aforementioned Hamilton, and the choreography is paired well with a sweeping photographic lens of vibrant colors and fantastical deviations from reality. But again, I’m not huge on musicals so my take is lacking context in the grander scheme of cinematic musicals.
One thing that’s been sticking out in certain musicals that I have seen is the conflict between tone and style. Musicals inherently carry a fantastical element, as real world people rarely break out into extremely choreographed dance numbers amongst flash mobs in the streets, and that’s a great thing. Musicals are capable of transporting audiences into a world of music and dance while also telling real stories that can touch upon conflict and pain. I believe it’s in this deft marriage of two extremes that make musicals difficult to digest for me. But it’s also something that I can still appreciate in it’s own right, no matter how I subjectively view them. Sometimes it’s jarring to see a wonderful dance number juxtaposed with a harrowing emotional sequence. It’s not exactly tonally inconsistent, but it’s something that I’m not a personal fan of.
That being said, In The Heights is a crowd pleaser, despite the extended run time. It’s a story for everyone from the perspective of the Latin-x community — something rarely seen in Hollywood’s extremely white stories. Here’s to more diversity in storytelling.