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Hall reviews "In the Heights"
In the Heights
This week on "Justin Hall At The Movies," I'll be reviewing Latino-Americans as they sing and dance their way to a better life in "In The Heights."

Based on the hit Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, In The Heights soars as both a dynamic musical filled with memorable songs, breathtaking musical numbers, and a story and characters that celebrate the diversity of its Latin-American culture in the most exhilarating way.

The movie takes place in Washington Heights in New York and it follows the story of Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos) who tells a group of kids what it's like living in the heights (No pun intended).

Usnavi lives in the mostly dominant Latin-American neighborhood where everyone just wants to do right by their fellow man and have great dreams and take care of themselves and their families.

Usnavi owns a convenient store and has a series of friends and family that he associates with: His cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV); his taxi dispatch friend Benny (Corey Hawkins); and his love interest Vanessa (Marissa Barerra).

Usnavi learns from his late father's attorney that his dad's business is up for sale in the Dominican Republic and Usnavi has plans to revitalize it, but he doesn't exactly have the money for it.

On the other side of the Heights is Nina (Leslie Grace) returning home from Stanford and seeing her father (Jimmy Smits) who runs the taxi company. Nina is concerned she won't have the tuition to continue going to Stanford, but her father tells her not to worry.

One of the great qualities of the movie is how it gives weight and depth to the supporting performances as well as the main characters are given enough backstory and detail to be fleshed out so that even when something might happen to them, it's actually affecting. Usnavi's grandmother is a potent example.

Now let's get down to the musical numbers. The choreography comes alive in nearly every sequence and we can tell that the actors are embracing the material. Many scenes feel so extemporaneous instead of going through the motions and telling the audience that it's a musical and transcends that label.

I did like three sequences in particular such as the phenomenal opening number which showcases the Heights in spectacular fashion. A public swimming pool sequence packs an enormous wallop and numbers inside a beauty salon and a nightclub further advance the electric energy.

In The Heights was directed by Jon M. Chu and just like that film, this is another celebration of multiculturalism made with vibrancy and exuberance. Chu's attention to detail during the musical numbers had my attention despite its lengthy runtime of 143 minutes.

His dazzling direction of the numbers make them spellbinding even if I felt narratively things felt a little too conventional for my taste.

This is a film that really tries to put on screen a marvelous depiction of a culture and community that wants to thrive in both good and bad times and ultimately see a better way of life. Oh, and did I mention the musical numbers are dynamic? Just saying.

Grade: A-

(Rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive references.)

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