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Review: 'In the Heights' is a wildly infectious way to kick off the summer

"In the Heights," a film based on Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical, hits theaters and HBO Max on June 11.

"In the Heights," a film based on Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical, hits theaters and HBO Max on June 11. (Macall Polay, Warner Bros. via the Associated Press)

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — As a movie fan, I have been patiently waiting for new movies to start releasing again. Well, I was usually at least kind of patient.

Tides are starting to turn back in the favor of us movie fans as "A Quiet Place Part II," "Cruella" and "Godzilla vs. Kong" have made their way back to the theaters. The latest delayed title to finally see its day in the sun is the cinematic version of the Broadway hit "In the Heights."

The film chronicles several days during the hot summer in the New York City neighborhood, Washington Heights, and how the heat and changing landscape of their home affects the unique residents and the vivid barrio itself.

At nearly two and a half hours, the film experiences some lulls and pacing problems, but that doesn't impede on what I consider an overall intoxicating movie experience.

Here are a few reasons "In the Heights" is an infectious and satisfying summer-time distraction:

The music hits every emotion

This should come as no surprise considering the exceptional Lin-Manuel Miranda composed the music and lyrics for the original stage musical and this subsequent film. With Latin and Caribbean-inspired beats and rhythms, you'll find yourself tapping your foot and unconsciously swinging your hips throughout a great majority of the movie.

The opening musical number alone should sell you on the movie. The song seems to rattle your bones, and the seamless flow between singers and characters is enthralling. Other songs like "96,000" and "Carnaval Del Barrio" will nearly force you out of your seat to start dancing, whether you want to or not. Others like "Paciencia Y Fe" will reach into your chest and hit the emotional button on your heart. More subtle songs like "Champagne" will force a tear to your eye and a lump in your throat.

The music alone is a reason to see "In the Heights."

It's a choreographed spectacle

I never had the chance to see "In the Heights" on the stage. While I'm sure it was done incredibly well, I can't help but feel this show was tailor-made for the screen and director Jon M. Chu was born to bring it to life.

While we have multiple protagonists in the film, the neighborhood itself is really the star of the show. Its vibrancy and heartbeat are on full display.

When I think of choreography I obviously think of the dance numbers, but also the flow and rhythm of the scenes, transitions and settings the characters find themselves in. Chu showcases the familiarity of the concrete jungle of New York — with its miles of sidewalks and shop fronts — while somehow simultaneously painting a vivid mural that feels more like the beaches of the Caribbean than the blacktop of the upper westside.

The visuals and feel of the movie are equal parts real world and whimsy; they intertwine uninterrupted.

The story is alluring, for the most part

"In the Heights" follows four main characters and the changing dynamics of their lives. Overall, the stories are engaging and relatable things we have all faced growing up — like grappling with the disparity between our dreams and our realities, and then realizing they may not be so disparate.

For me, however, two storylines held less interest than the other two. I would rather not tell you which I was drawn to and which I was waiting to move on from so I could get back to the other because I don't want to dissuade you as you watch for yourself.

This is my only real complaint about the film. The story that lacked for me left me feeling like we lost the momentum we'd seized and needed to pick it up again when we got back to the more engrossing storyline.

These starts on stops of energy did not pull me out of the experience, however, and couldn't keep me from having a genuinely good time.

How can I watch it?

"In the Heights" is currently playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. I can't say when you should head back to the theater, as that depends on you and your comfort, but this is a cinematic movie in which its scale would be appreciated on the big screen. With that said, if you have HBO Max, it's worth an evening in and it would be totally acceptable to grab your partner and dance around your basement.

If you do have HBO Max, however, be aware that "In the Heights" is only streaming until July 11 on the platform.

What's the content like?

"In the Heights" is rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive references. The rating seems appropriate. The language isn't pervasive, but it's apparent and found here and there throughout the film.

The film is also somewhat sexual in the sense of showing off a fair amount of skin from time to time as well as discussion and rumors about sex. But aside from a kiss here and there, you won't find any sex scenes or nudity.

When it comes to violence, there really isn't any to speak of. But the content and storyline overall are more grown-up and may be a bit heavy for younger audiences.


"In the Heights" is a great way to kick off the summer and a fun movie that is perfect for heading back to the theater, or for two-stepping in your own home.


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