Director Jon M. Chu, the filmmaking pride of Los Altos Hills, is following up “Crazy Rich Asians,” the biggest movie of his career, with the film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about life in the Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City.
“In the Heights,” which gives exposure to underrepresented Latino actors as “Crazy Rich Asians” did for Asian actors, is scheduled to hit the theaters and HBO Max Friday.
Chu has reaped major commercial success with “Crazy Rich Asians,” as well as “Step Up 2: The Streets” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.” He’s joining forces with Broadway’s Miranda, creator and star of “Hamilton.” “In the Heights” launched Miranda’s career in 2008, winning four Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Variety featured the two stars on the cover of its April issue, framing the new film as promising, thanks to Hollywood’s now-receptive climate to casting multiethnic actors in starring roles.
The film, shot on location in Washington Heights with participation from the neighborhood, highlights the modest challenges of everyday people: a bodega owner, a student, a dispatcher – roles in a movie that Variety pointed out as “revolutionary precisely because its characters aren’t.” The film also avoids negative stereotypes of Latinos as gang members and drug dealers – roles Latino actors were too often relegated to in the past.
Chu said he identified with the characters of “In the Heights.”
He is the son of Ruth and Lawrence Chu Sr. of the popular Chef Chu’s restaurant in Los Altos. The Chus celebrated the 50th anniversary of the restaurant last year.
“Even though I’m not from Washington Heights – I grew up in a Chinese restaurant on the other side of the country – I recognized my family in that. I recognized my aunts and my uncles who took care of us growing up,” Chu said in a recent interview with Bloomberg News. “I really related to knowing how big your dreams feel when you are imagining it in your bedroom, or in the kitchen of the restaurant.”
Like “Crazy Rich Asians,” Chu again took the route of bringing in relatively unknown actors for “In the Heights.” He prioritized singing, dancing and acting talent over name recognition.
Chu signed on to the project in 2016. It was due for release last year, but the pandemic changed those plans.
Chu, a Pinewood School and USC graduate, started in experimental films, catching the eye of Steven Spielberg. When he first read the script for one of his first commercial successes, the dance-movie sequel “Step Up 2,” he was ready to turn it down.
His mother, Ruth, remembers the advice she gave that proved pivotal to Chu’s career.
“He did not want to do a film straight to DVD, and I said, ‘You haven’t done even one film yet – you are being a snob!’” she told the Town Crier last week. “Pick that project and make it the best DVD out there, then you can pick and choose your projects in Hollywood. Then when Jon pitched ‘Step Up 2’ to the studio bosses, they were so impressed they decided to make it a feature film. And the rest is history.”
“In the Heights” has received positive reviews thus far. Chu’s brother, Larry Jr., said the film last week was getting a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a popular movie rating website.
“This is going to be big,” predicted Larry Jr., who will be with the rest of the Chu family in New York this week to celebrate the premiere.
Other reviews: “Electrifying,” according to Vox. “Magical and euphoric,” Indiewire reports. “The musical that put the ‘Hamilton’ creator on the map gets splashy big-screen treatment,” writes the Hollywood Reporter.
“It makes me cry every time I see it,” Ruth said. “I cried at the end. It makes me proud of my son – what a wonderful soul. ... He works very, very hard. Every project, he throws his heart into it.”
For more information on the film, visit intheheights-movie.com.