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In the heights
LIN-MANUEL Miranda’s In the heights, on which he began working in college and managed to get on Broadway nine years later, has finally made it to the big screen. It’s beautifully produced on a budget of $ 55 million, shot on location in Washington Heights, and features a surprisingly handsome cast made up mostly of young actors and a handful of recognizable veteran talent.
The film is quite entertaining: the interwoven stories of largely Hispanic New Yorkers, sweating through a memorably hot summer as they pursue their various suenitos, or “little dreams”. Bodega Usnavi owner (Anthony Ramos) wants to return to the Dominican Republic to reopen his late father’s business, which is for sale; nail technician Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) wants a downtown apartment and a career as a fashion designer; Nina (Leslie Grace) wants a college degree from Stanford; dispatcher Benny (Corey Hawkins) wants Nina, daughter of Kevin (Jimmy Smits), who owns the cab company he works for.
Add “Abuela” Claudia (Olga Merediz) who wanted to save enough money to return to visit the Dominican Republic after so many years of absence; Kevin, who sells pieces of his business to help fund Nina’s school fees; Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV) who wants to go to college someday; and Usnavi, who besides wanting his father’s business wants to invite Vanessa out. Oh, and the Piragua Guy (Lin-Manuel Miranda), who wants to reclaim the business he lost when a Softee truck started roaming his neighborhood.
I mean it’s refreshing to see Hispanic faces telling Hispanic stories to a largely Hispanic and Afro-Latino beat … although there seems to be a lot of powerful ballads to my inexperienced ears, and a lot of Broadway moments where the story stops dead on its tracks to allow a singer to hit their high note for at least a minute while we admire their tonsils. Rap lyrics don’t seem as complex or intelligently written as Mr. Miranda’s later Hamilton, although even this musical which I found problematic, with its cast of black and Latin actors in the role of white patriarchs, largely whitewashing their role in slavery (for the record, Hamilton’s own record was ambiguous: he supported abolition but did not let his position jeopardize his relations with George Washington and other influential slave owners; he believed in the liberation of slaves, but also believed in property rights).
Jon Chu’s set serves this Miranda musical better than Thomas Kail’s on the more famous Mr. Miranda musical – this is a film adaptation meant as a movie, not an expensive high definition video recording. illuminated mainly by red dots. The colors are vivid, the camera active enough – but when the camera cuts to the beat and cuts out Christopher Scott’s athletic choreography to insert sweeping crane shots and other musical shots of modern dance, you remember that previous work by Mr. Chu understood Step up 2 and Step up 3d. We’re not deconstructing the musical here, we’re just making a big budget clip, with short clips ready to upload to YouTube.
An aside: What would an interesting musical look like these days? Throwing away all the clichés would be nice; to see the work of a dance choreographer intact would be nice. A more contemplative filmmaker with real vision would be nice, someone like, say, Tsai Ming-liang (The hole and The capricious cloud nobody?). He also happens to be Asian, but not Asian-American.
It doesn’t help that Chu is hinting at older and better musicals – the synchronized swimming number in the pool is reminiscent of Busby Berkeley and the best of Esther Williams (no water skis or rising towers or dives to cut. the breath, alas, and the sparklers are reserved for another number); the dance against the side of a building is reminiscent of Fred Astaire’s number in Royal wedding, only they did it without computers. The problem is, watching these recalls makes you want to pause HBO Max to go to Amazon or Criterion to search for those older and better musicals instead.
Speaking of New York’s ethnic neighborhoods during a hot summer, Spike Lee is earlier Do the right thing (and at one point this movie opens up a few fire hydrants in apparent homage) pretty much sums up my problem with this image: Miranda’s is a Disneyfied New York, plus a Washington Heightsland with guide rails and lineups. waiting for the rides and the water park slips than a true New York neighborhood. The streets are too clean (at one point I swiped my finger in a corner of the screen to exclaim “Look! Waste!”), The actors washed too well. Where’s the gunk? Rats? The huge piles of garbage bags, not just in Washington Heights but in pretty much every neighborhood – Woodside, Flushing, Belmont, Coney Island? As if at the right moment a singer was walking past a stack of black bags – but discreetly tucked away in an alley, all neatly tied). Plus, where is the ‘study? The beauty salon number (in a store the size of a Broadway stage) promises a bit of Latin daring (I thought forehead hair removal was the movie’s comedic highlight) but few actors speak , let alone sing, no blasphemy, maybe the “shit!” »Occasionally (not enough to raise the PG-13 rating to R). Dads kiss girls, girls kiss dads, everybody kiss the neighborhood abuela; Of course, everyone has problems and no one has money, but there’s nothing that can’t be resolved with a little determination, a lot of love, and a catchy Broadway act.
Compare the provocation of a Mr. Lee movie, which begins with Rosie Perez dancing to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and ends with Mr. Lee himself throwing a trash can through a window. I miss the bitterness of being berated all the time every time; The fiery and burning fury felt by minorities in the face of everyday institutional racism (the most In the heights manages to stir up is slight dismay, maybe a bit of melancholy, a brief DACA demonstration that one might mistake for a Disneyland Main Street parade). The loudest voice you can hear in this photo is screaming “We’re here and we want our dreams!” ”(Also“ Don’t forget to buy your daily Loto ticket! ”). The loudest voice heard in Do the right thing says “We’re here, we’re not going anywhere and we’re not taking any more shit from you!” Guess which one I find most honest.