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But Miranda and Chu (although perhaps not Hudes) know that you’re not here for layered characters or nuanced narrative. You’re here for the earworm songs, the epic dance numbers, the Washington Heights-as-Fantasyland set design. And those elements kill more often than not.
The opening number especially. Across more than 10 wildly entertaining minutes, Chu – no stranger to keep-’em-busy cinema thanks to his Step Up films – introduces Usnavi and his neighbours with such assured, energetic confident world-building that the rest of reality’s problems all but disappear. And good luck trying to get Usnavi’s rapid-fire rhymes out of your head for the rest of the week.
But Chu, Miranda and Hudes’s work here is also far too obedient to the source material. The trio’s adaptation is, with a few small exceptions (including, um, killing Kevin’s wife instead of including her in the story), almost the entire musical squished into a filled-to-the-brim feature film. There are at least two or three songs that could have easily been left on the stage. And one number crucial to the story in either medium – Blackout, which follows a misunderstanding between Usnavi and Vanessa while also chronicling an urban disaster – is rendered here with a stretched-out sloppiness that intended tension turns into to groaning tedium.
Indeed, the film’s smile-to-groan ratio is mildly concerning. By the time that Chu reworks the laws of gravity to illustrate the up-and-down romance between Benny and Kevin’s daughter Nina (Leslie Grace), it becomes too easy to wonder what fidelity demands were written into any adaptation contract – and the increasingly desperate lengths that the film’s creative team had to go to compensate.
But, as with other Miranda properties, In the Heights is designed to charm you into submission – and charmed you will be. You might even get up and dance. And whether that’s in the company of strangers at a theatre or in front of your indifferent pets at home, there is something to be said for a movie that can make you move.
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In the Heights is available on-demand, including Apple TV/iTunes and the Cineplex Store, starting June 10, the same day it opens in Canadian theatres, dependent on public health restrictions
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, recommended works will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.