Greg and Zanna inquire as to why the other was not more moved.
Exuberance (on screen): 5
Exuberance (in audience): 0
Immediately before the premiere screening of In The Heights, the actors appeared on screen to introduce themselves and implore the audience to make some noise, make it a party, have some fun, whoop and holler. Eight minutes later, at the end of the opening number, a dazzling, epic, exquisitely choreographed extravaganza capturing the energy of one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the greatest city in the world, Zanna clapped four times but, by the time she gave a muted "Wooh", it was clear not a single other person in the sold-out crowd, including me, was joining her. The rest of the movie passed in respectful silence.
I'm not judging us; I'm one of us. I have no interest in whooping and hollering at anything, let alone a movie screen. The occasional joys I feel in life are almost entirely internalised. I feel angry at being told to express my emotions publicly but you would never know it to look at my face. I'll decide whether I want to party, thanks, and my decision will always be in the negative.
We are a social species but I am not a social person. I don't go to the movies to be transformed into someone I'm not - I go to the movies to forget about the fact I never will be.
This is the second major Lin-Manuel Miranda musical movie event in under a year, following the release of Hamilton on Disney+ in July 2020. But, where Hamilton was a filmic version of the smash hit Broadway musical of the same name, In The Heights has been designed and made for the screen. This means it's able to capture the beauty and energy of the New York neighbourhood it celebrates in a way it almost certainly couldn't on stage.
I felt the thrill of that neighbourhood from the moment lead character Usnavi woke up singing excitedly in his apartment to the moment he pashed his girlfriend at the end. During many of the songs I tapped my foot and even let my head nod, but was surprised to notice in my peripheral vision that Zanna, a noted fan of musicals and an enthusiastic dancer, wasn't dancing at all. I was therefore astonished at the end of the movie, when she claimed not only that she had danced throughout, but had noticed I didn't.
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Expressing your exuberance through the power of dance, only centimetres from your spouse, who doesn't even realise you're moving: the perfect illustration of the contrast between the culture on screen and the culture in the audience.
Greg and I were supposed to have our first trip away without any of our dangerously well-attached children next month to see Hamilton in Sydney. We're not going anymore but the fact we bought tickets on a hope and dream last year, mid-pandemic, indicates the level of Lin-Manuel Miranda Kool Aid we have downed. We were primed, me especially, to love In The Heights - the film adaptation of Manuel's first Broadway hit - and we did.
It's hard to critique a musical in the same way you would any other type of film. To enjoy a musical you have to be willing to suspend disbelief and surrender to the insanity of singing and dancing all your thoughts and feelings. Musicals operate on a different level to traditional narrative storytelling. Done well, they take you out of your head and - wait for it - into your heart. They speak to you on a primal, emotional level. Which isn't to say they can't deal with complex issues but if you're not moved emotionally, and even physically, by the songs, it doesn't matter how profound the story is.
The music of In The Heights is arguably less memorable than that of Hamilton but I was totally dazzled by the film's energy. There are some incredible song and dance numbers reimagined for the big-screen in the vein of classic Busby Berkeley movies. It was due to be released in the northern summer last year but was held because cinemas were closed and the producers wanted it to be viewed as it was intended. In the US, it's being promoted as the film to celebrate getting back into the cinema, and with epic scenes of people dancing in the streets of New York - mask-free - it definitely has a rousing, dancing in the aisles, vibe, which could be just the elixir of life Americans need after a year indoors.
Directed by John M. Chu of Crazy Rich Asians fame, it has the same vibrancy as that film: colourful, visually fun and culturally rich. Set in the primarily Dominican suburb of Washington Heights in New York City, it's a powerful celebration of the culture of the Latin American diaspora in New York, dealing with issues of class, gentrification, dual identity and exploding with cultural pride. At times it's corny but who cares - the spirit of this film and of Latin American music and culture in general is so infectious I'm not interested in calling it into question or killing this buzz. It took me out of my head, into my heart and all the way down to my feet, by way of my hips.
In The Heights is in cinemas from Thursday, with advance screenings this weekend.