Review: Neighborhood in transition in ‘Jackson Heights’

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“In Jackson Heights” is a slice of life.

It’s like being dropped off in a taxi cab in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York, and spending a few days with the locals. Director Frederick Wiseman, the documentarian known for his unobtrusive style, digs in and offers a fascinating portrait of a living, breathing neighborhood. He doesn’t use narration or interviews, he just films, and the rest is up to viewers.

In Jackson Heights he’s found a terrifically diverse neighborhood, an area where 167 different languages are spoken among its locals. It’s a working-class area, and Wiseman spends time in the community centers, restaurants, laundromats, small businesses, butcher shops, churches, bars, senior living spaces and streets that make it hum.

The film is filled with real people, people with lived-in faces whose clothes don’t always fit right and whose hair is tattered and messy. It’s a reminder of how rare it is to see normal, everyday people on screen.

Wiseman filmed “In Jackson Heights” in summer 2014, when the World Cup was stirring excitement, and the film has a sweltering summertime feel. He captures a neighborhood in transition: Corporate interests are beginning to take hold and gentrification is heading to the area, whether the residents like it or not. Citizens and business owners are banding together to stop it, but its proximity to Manhattan makes it too enticing to leave alone.

At three-plus hours, it tends to get tedious as it goes on, but it’s rare to find a film that feels this lived-in. To watch “In Jackson Heights” is to feel like you’re a part of it.



‘In Jackson Heights’


Not rated

Running time: 190 minutes