(Anthony Lane’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 6/11; PHOTO: Anthony Ramos stars in Jon M. Chu’s film of the Broadway musical.Illustration by Katty Huertas.)
Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical presents an uplifting portrait of a Dominican neighborhood in New York where political strife rarely intrudes.
Morning in America, not yet six o’clock, and a couple of working stiffs, in the bright early glare of New York, are finding it hard to make a start. One of them is a crane operator, down at the docks, beside a U.S. Navy vessel. “I feel like I’m not out of bed yet,” he says—or sings, in a baritone as slow as a bear. Way uptown, close to the 181st Street subway stop, someone else has the same problem. “Lights up on Washington Heights, up at the break of day, I wake up, and I got this little punk I gotta chase away,” he says—or raps, in a voice as crisp as an apple. The first man, who is unnamed, initiates “On the Town” (1949), and the second is Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), the likable hero of “In the Heights.” Two guys, two movies, seventy-two years apart, both springing from stage musicals. Oh, and Usnavi is so called because his father, arriving from the Dominican Republic, saw a ship marked “U.S. Navy.” How much is truly new, under the sun?