Last year, everyone with a Disney+ subscription was treated to seeing Hamilton in its true and original form. We finally found out why this show had been raved about for so long and saw how talented Lin-Manuel Miranda was as a musical writer. Yes, we had already seen Moana, but Hamilton was certainly more like Miranda’s Magnum Opus. Now we’re treated to an actual filmed adaptation of one of Miranda’s earlier musicals, In The Heights.
In The Heights certainly proves Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ability to write really great music. If you’re a fan of Hamilton then this will also be up your street; the music is very similar. So similar in fact that you definitely see the blueprints for the revolutionary musical within a lot of the songs during this film’s runtime. A Hamilton song is even referenced in one scene in a not so subtle way. None of this is to the film’s detriment – if ain’t broke don’t fix it after all. Every song is beautifully sung, emotional and never fails to get you to bop your head and feet. There are the odd few songs here and there that are literally just dialogue scenes that are sung which aren’t quite as good but the singing voices on display are nevertheless breath-taking.
Jon M. Chu’s directing also gets a showcase here as there’s so much fantastic choreography and shot variety. Every dance sequence flows brilliantly and makes you feel like you are actually in a theatre watching a live musical while still feeling like an actual film, rather than a recording of a production. What’s also impressive is the director’s ability to make the audience feel as hot as the characters. Even if you watch this film in the dead of night on the coldest day of the year in Sweden, you’ll still feel like you’re living through a heatwave.
What In The Heights lacks, however, is a good story. The plot revolves around very derivative romances and aspirations that don’t really match the scale of the music and choreography. Whenever the characters stop singing and dancing the film grinds to a halt. The dialogue is often boring and just very samey and makes you realise that you’re not quite as invested in these characters as you were when they were belting out banging tunes. In fact, there’s a part of the film near the beginning of the third act where the story does seem to basically pause and characters just appear to be wandering around aimlessly.
This is why, as fun and entertaining as In The Heights is, it pales in comparison to Hamilton. Hamilton is a sprawling epic that spans decades of a man’s life as he lives through war and the birth of a new nation. In The Heights is about some 20-something New Yorkers thinking about what to do with their life during a heatwave.
In The Heights will certainly strengthen Lin-Manuel Miranda’s position as everyone’s musical writer. It’s as filled with as much sunshine as the countries where all the characters come from. But it will leave you longing for a character to get attached to in the same way we did to Alexander Hamilton.
In The Heights arrives in cinemas June 18th