In The Heights

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In The Heights (2021) is the first film that I have seen in a theater since The New Mutants (2020). Covid-19 kept us away from cinemas, and now that that chapter comes to a close it feels so good to be back. And could there be a better film to make that return to than John M. Chu’s adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical?

When I saw In The Heights it was prefaced by the trailer for Steven Spielberg’s version of West Side Story (2021). This was a depressing circumstance. Here I am about to see In The Heights and I am being sold another movie musical that deals with race in America but authored by a white filmmaker who also happens to be the most powerful person in tinsel town. The irony was impossible to ignore. Even if Spielberg’s film boasts superior technique it could never outshine In The Heights in terms of what this film means politically for the entertainment industry.

There’s a lot of thematic overlap between In The Heights and Fiddler On The Roof (1971). Both films deal in a kind of collective dreaming or fantasy that originates in a community forced to exist on the fringes of media and society. Each film also opens with a show stopping number that introduces the protagonist in a direct-address shot but also establishes the members of the community with different musical motifs. The two films end similarly with the promise of escape unrealized, though in In The Heights this is a cause for celebration.

The standout segment of In The Heights was Olga Merediz’s number Paciencia y Fe. This is the kind of visual poetry, a perfect combination of music and sound, that once made Arthur Freed legendary. Merediz’s performance is flawless, delicate, and ultimately powerful. The spectacles that populate the rest of In The Heights are exuberant and intoxicating, but none of them are so truthful, so beautiful.