Musicals are often the best genre to showcase the dreams of a particular film's characters, the magic they possess able to create some truly wonderful sequences over the years in the genre. In the Heights is the latest musical to get the big screen treatment and with Lin-Manuel Miranda involved, himself behind some of the most prominent musicals of recent memory, it really is the cinematic party of the summer that you simply do not want to miss.

Set in the neighbourhood of Washington Heights, on the northern tip of Manhattan, Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) is a bodega owner who looks after the aging Cuban lady next door, pines for the gorgeous girl working in the neighboring beauty salon and dreams of winning the lottery and escaping to the shores of his native Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, Nina (Leslie Grace), a childhood friend of Usnavi's, has returned to the neighbourhood from her first year at college with surprising news for her parents, who have spent their life savings on building a better life for their daughter. Ultimately, Usnavi and the residents of the close-knit neighbourhood get a dose of what it means to be home.

Opening with the titular In the Heights musical number, the film gets off to an energetic and memorable start that is just an appetiser for what is to follow, characters breaking into song and large scale dance numbers springing seamlessly into life throughout making it near impossible to remain in your seat without moving some part of the body to the beat. 96,000 and Carnaval del Barrio are the musical numbers that stood out for me other than the opening, all of the songs written so brilliantly by the extremely talented Lin-Manuel Miranda.

In the Heights is a celebration of culture and life itself that explodes from the screen with a resounding sense of passion and exuberant use of colour that ensures the film will light up every cinema around the world. Jon M. Chu shows he can handle the pressure of bringing a big movie musical to life, working well with choreographer Christopher Scott and cinematographer Alice Brooks to deliver some absolutely wonderful group dance routines that just fit the music so well.
It's all good having a great crew working behind the scenes to execute such a project so efficiently however, In the Heights owes just as much of its success to the talented ensemble who grace the streets of Washington Heights, whether it be singing or dancing, to make this such a joyous cinematic experience. Miranda played the lead role in the Broadway show but thought himself too old to play it in the film so Anthony Ramos was hired to play Usnavi instead, and what a decision that turned out to be because his performance here is one that should propel his career to new heights.

The young and the old amongst the cast combine so well to make In the Heights feel like a generational film that is to be enjoyed by all ages. Gregory Diaz IV as Sonny de la Vega provides a lot of the humour that works well in the film as one of the younger members of the cast, while Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia stuns with an emotionally powerful moment in the film that really did hit me hard, proving as one of the older cast members that it isn't just the youth who bring the energy to the film.

There is an argument to be made that the film could do with being twenty minutes or so shorter as you do start to feel the runtime by the end however, when there's so much fun to be had that's easy to ignore. In the Heights had me wanting to listen to all the songs again as soon as possible and also wanting to see the stage show if I ever get the chance so it passes the test for me as a musical in that sense. After such a dismal year where cinemas were shut for the most part, this is a trip to the cinema you'll remember for a long time to come.

Verdict: ½

In the Heights hits US cinemas on June 10 before coming to UK cinemas June 18 


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