Feldman @ the flicks

In The Heights

Peter Feldman: In the Heights is a joyous celebration of life in the tight Latino community of Washington Heights, New York, based on the hit Broadway musical.

In The Heights
Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Jimmy Smits
Director: Jon M Chu
Classification: 7-9 PGL

In the Heights is a joyous celebration of life in the tight Latino community of Washington Heights, New York. It’s an energetic, in-your-face musical escapade with catchy, up-tempo Lin-Manuel Miranda compositions and slick, cohesive direction from Jon M Chu.

The production, based on the hit Broadway show, rekindles the images and vibe of the evergreen MGM musicals and it hits you between the eyes with its visual splendour and commanding acting from its relatively young cast. Dance, dance and more dance is the cornerstone of an inspired narrative that tells the story of characters eking out a living in the Heights. This immigrant population, with many undocumented individuals, finds hope in the street as they aspire to reach their dreams.

It is an affecting story because it’s about humanity’s struggle with life, dealing with prejudice and racism and people trying desperately to fit into the American way of life while still retaining their identity.

The story centres on Usnayi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos), a young bodega owner, and the various colourful characters in the community with whom he interacts. He dreams of returning to his real home, the Dominican Republic, and the movie opens with him telling a group of children gathered around him his story.

He is intent on carving a better life and as this lengthy musical drama unfolds, we become drawn into his little world. The characters are strong and resilient, conveying a tale about ambition, the daunting experiences of immigrants and the sacrifices parents make for their children.

Characters who come into Usnayi’s orbit include Benny (Corey Hawkins) who runs the local car service, Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace), who could become the first in her family to get a college education but is reluctant to pursue her dream because of racism, and the attractive Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who works in a beauty salon doing nails but dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Veteran Latino actor Jimmy Smits puts in a rare appearance as Nina’s father, Kevin, who sells his business to fund her college studies.

The story is relayed through dialogue, lyrics and a stream of melodic, foot-stomping rhythms, enhanced by a series of excellently choreographed dance routines. One telling scene, shot from high above, sees a large body of swimmers executing a watery routine which, no doubt, may have been inspired by the syncopated swimming style of the celebrated 50s MGM star, Esther Williams.

Shot on the vibrant streets of Washington Heights, director Jon M Chu embraces the vigour and fortitude of the Latino community and imbues his production with a heightened sense of optimism. It sparkles!

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Peter Feldman has been a journalist and arts critic for almost 50 years and served on The Star in various capacities for 35 years, ending up as a specialist writer on films, music and theatre. During that time, he travelled extensively on assignments and interviewed many international film and pop stars, both in South Africa and overseas. He also covered some of South Africa’s biggest film and musical events. He was one of only two South African journalists to be invited by Steven Spielberg to the Hook film junket in LA in 1991 where he interviewed the famous director as well as Dustin Hoffman and the late Robin Williams. He attended the gala James Bond premiere in London in 1981 and did an iconic interview in a Rolls Royce with Roger Moore who played Bond. He spent a week touring England with Queen prior to their Sun City visit in 1983, interviewed a host of international stars on films sets in Hollywood and London and was the first local journalist to nail an interview with The Rolling Stones prior to their SA visit in 1995. He is active in the freelance field and his work has appeared in a variety of South African newspapers and magazines, including Artslink.co.za. He has also worked on TV and radio (ChaiFM 101.9) in his specialist capacity. Over the years Feldman has been the recipient of several awards for his contribution to music journalism and the SA record industry. He is a recent recipient of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz award in recognition for his long-standing journalistic support for the arts. He wrote lyrics for some top artists, including Sipho Mabuse, and had a hit disco single, “Video Games,” which was released in 1988. He coined the phrase “Local is Lekker”.