The hottest day of the summer in New York: in cinema, it can mean chaos, sex or, as here, celebration and joy. Jon M. Chu’s follow-up to Crazy Rich Asians is the film adaptation of In the Heights, the first musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton mega-fame) and Quiara Alegría Hudes.

The subject is that perennial American favourite, dreams; but refreshingly the ‘sueñitos’ here belong to the Latino neighbourhood of Washington Heights. Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) is saving to return to the Dominican Republic, while the girl he loves, Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), wants to move downtown. Nina (Leslie Grace) has made it to Stanford University, but is struggling with isolation from her community. It remains refreshing to see a film treating such concerns, and in which white people appear only as bit characters.

The film’s Broadway heritage means lots of earnest singing, but it also means everyone can actually dance, even if the showy editing doesn’t always have faith in the actors’ talents or the audience’s attention span. You don’t quite get to properly appreciate that Busby Berkeley-style synchronised swimming.

A cynic might say that the story is often trite, but they would miss the point. Like all good parties, In the Heights has a generous sense of joy. It finds beauty in a lovingly stocked bodega, sacred ritual in the hair salon, and invites the middle-aged lady on the side to dance. You’ll have a grand time watching it, and be singing ‘No Me Diga’ to yourself all the next day.

The return of the movie musical is exactly what we need right now. A little sappiness is easily forgiven when In the Heights offers such fun and sense of community after a year of unparalleled boredom and isolation.



CAST: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz


WRITER: Quiara Alegría Hudes

SYNOPSIS: Bodega-owner Usnavi and his friends follow, and sing about, their dreams during a hot summer in the Latino neighbourhood of Washington Heights, New York.