Kelly Friggin’ Loves In the Heights (2021)!

Rating: A(-? Maybe?)

Summary: A modern musical take on the American Dream

Goddamn, I’m so glad John Chu is directing Wicked. IDGAF about In the Heights “underperforming” or HBO instant stream vs theaters or marketed demographics reluctant to return to movie theaters. I don’t. In The Heights is the best musical movie since Chicago. It’s the best “new” movie I’ve watched this year, meaning it’s the only movie to pass the “Would I rather have watched The Last of the Mohicans?” test upon first viewing. It’s the first movie this year that I felt compelled to actually sit down and write about. There. I said it.

This is what a musical should be: a supremely talented cast, an embracing of the genre, finding emotional moments to fit the music, and dancing to express feeling and passion. Not something “grounded” or gritty or realistic- there is something inherently self-serving about this approach and it does a complete disservice to its genre. Using the music to its fullest extent supports the characters: their dreams, their wants, their very beings. To deny the actors the means to perform is to invalidate their characters. (And therefore there is no point in making a musical, really.)

In the Heights does the opposite of what Tom Hooper and Rob Marshall have been doing, with Les Mis, Into the Woods, and- rawr- Cats. It’s bright. It’s funny. The world feels full and celebratory of New York City and its people. It’s absolutely full of life. People sing because they care and the strength in the musical numbers express their passions. People dance because their feelings are too strong to express with words. This is really what sets In the Heights apart from other musicals- because the cast is able to use their full range of talents, whether they are dancing furiously or singing to each other- it’s more heartfelt because they are connecting with the content and themes of the songs. Motives, characters, their relationships- it all feels authentic. Sure, it’s generally idyllic and resolved rather easily as musicals typically areand really, it’s just a love story at the end of the day- but that doesn’t make the storytelling any less interesting.

I hope this really changes the direction of how musicals are adapted for the screen and that studios understand what it is that attracts people to the genre. (And I hope Corey Hawkins gets more work, pretty please, the dude is super talented.)

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