Critics Sing Praises of ‘In the Heights’ as ‘The Best Hollywood Musical in Years’

“[Director Jon M.] Chu delivers the Latino equivalent of his previous box office smash “Crazy Rich Asians” and knocks it out of the park,” TheWrap’s critic writes

in the heights
Warner Bros.

Critics are singing the praises of Jon M. Chu’s colorful, joyous and jubilant “In the Heights,” with at least one critic saying that the film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stage production is “the best Hollywood musical in years,” with another arguing it’s even better than the play.

Many of the early reviews of “In the Heights” — which hits theaters and HBO Max on June 11 — are unanimous in their praise of the film’s celebration of community and Latinx representation on screen.

“With ‘In the Heights,’ Chu delivers the Latino equivalent of his previous box office smash ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and knocks it out of the park. It’s a layered story but a feel-good one that will invite many rewatches,” TheWrap’s Monica Castillo writes in her review. “‘In the Heights’ can represent many things for many different viewers. It can be a story about ambitious, hard-working people chasing their dreams. It can be a reflection on the immigrant experience and the struggle to find where you belong. It can also be a tribute to our parents’ sacrifices.”

Some of the film’s individual standouts include “Hamilton” actor Anthony Ramos, who critics feel is poised to become an instant heartthrob after this film, and Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia. But while the musical’s many songs are still intact and better than ever, critics agreed that the updates to bring the 2008 into 2021 — including reordering some of the songs and adding some new framing elements — have helped elevate the material as well.

“Screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes, who also wrote the original stage book, finds ways to update the script for 2021 in ways that feel necessary without being invasive: an affecting side plot about DACA; resonant new anecdotes for Grace’s Nina, a Stanford student dismayed to discover just how little the Ivy League is able to see beyond her brown skin,” Leah Greenblatt of EW writes. “For all its rich tapestry and radiant ingenues, it’s that casual centering of so many marginalized voices that makes the movie feel, in its own way, revolutionary: a Technicolor marvel as heady as Old Hollywood, and as modern as this moment.”

And while most critics enjoyed the film, not all were enamored with every choice made by Chu, with some arguing that the story’s realism and even darker edges at times clashes with the Busby Berkeley style musical numbers and fantastical set pieces.

“The choreography for the songs often feels spontaneous and unpolished, almost like a callback to Chu’s Step Up days. It feels like Chu wants to bring a realism to the film that works against that heightened aspect built into the musical — perhaps in an attempt to capture that vivacity of the original stage production,” Hoai-Tran Bui of /Film says. “While the spontaneity of the dance numbers ultimately works in Chu’s favor, the frequent close-ups do not, and it makes me wish he showed the potential for splashy musicals that he did in his Step Up movies.”

See some other review reactions below:

Paste, Jacob Oller – It’s incredible. The exciting electricity of a non-white blockbuster cast becoming superstars before your eyes, the maximalist style of a modern smash updating its influences, the intertwining of hyper-specific and broad themes—Chu’s strengths and his cast soar, bringing In the Heights as high as it’s ever been. It’s the best Hollywood musical in years.

TheWrap, Monica Castillo – There’s an unmistakable sense of pride in celebrating where so many of us came from and an optimistic outlook towards where we’re all going next, and it feels like we could all use a little bit of that these days.

The Independent, Clarisse Loughrey – The themes that pulsate through In the Heights – culture, identity, community, gentrification, and the rights of undocumented immigrants – are as central to the conversation now as they were when Lin-Manuel Miranda first debuted his stage musical in 2005. But Jon M Chu’s full-throated, dizzyingly soulful adaptation arrives in cinemas after a year-long delay, into a world still trying to crawl out from under the shadows of a devastating pandemic. In that sense, it’s a gift.

EW, Leah Greenblatt – the film version is both a faithful staging and a full-blown screen extravaganza of its own design. That’s due at least in part to director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), who sets his gorgeous young cast loose in a New York City where dazzling bits of magical realism — a gravity-defying waltz up the side of a building, a Bollywood-meet-Busby-Berkeley sequence at a municipal pool — live alongside the starker realities of life in the predominately Latinx Washington Heights.

Indiewire, David Ehlrich – “In the Heights” is the kind of electrifying theatrical experience that people have been waxing nostalgic about ever since the pandemic began — the kind that it almost seemed like we might never get to enjoy again. In that sense, Jon M. Chu’s super-glossy Broadway adaptation hits with equal parts rapture and relief. Seeing this massive, guileless, heartfelt piece of Hollywood entertainment on the big screen is like coming home after a long year in exile only to find that it’s still there, and maybe even better than you remembered.

Polygon, Joshua Rivera – In its joyous excess, In the Heights makes a case for adapting Broadway musicals into Hollywood cinema. The musical numbers are freed from the boundaries of the stage, and they don’t waste that freedom. The dance routines feel like gorgeous action-movie set-pieces, thanks to Alice Brooks’ cinematography. And the film cast is a constellation of Latinx legends and up-and-comers alike, from Daphne Rubin-Vega to Leslie Grace and Jimmy Smits. Every summer should have a movie like this one.

Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson – “In the Heights” is also a sturdy, thoughtfully constructed movie that would likely make a significant impact no matter our recent history. The way the film zooms and zips down the barrio’s streets—rendered in an aching, saturated glow—makes it a more immersive, more holistic experience than the Broadway show. “In the Heights” marks a very rare instance when the film is an improvement on the stage version.

Slate, Dana Stevens – Theater fans who have seen the show on stage may be annoyed by the changes the filmmakers have made to the narrative structure, especially when those changes ladle extra sentiment onto an already less-than-edgy story. Still, this movie succeeds at the hardest task a movie musical needs to pull off: the musical numbers, with few exceptions, soar in the way an in-story song has to soar to convince us that, given this situation and these characters, “randomly bursting into song” is a perfectly sensible thing to do.


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