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Film Review: Is “In The Heights” Worth The Hype?

June 11, 2021

I am a guy from Northern Michigan and know as much about life in New York City as I do about quantum mechanics. After watching In the Heights, well, I still won’t call myself an expert, but I felt a part of that life for two and a half hours.

It is a great movie about not just Washington Heights but its most important asset – its people. I am not a huge Broadway or musical guy, but Lin-Manuel Miranda has done it again. If you enjoyed Hamilton, you will enjoy In The Heights. The music, the choreography, and the cinematography all work together perfectly to pull you in, but it is the story that keeps you engaged and invested. And that is what movies should do, pull you in and get lost for a few hours, and In The Heights does just that.

The story is told from the point of view of Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) as a Dominican-Republican immigrant running his convenience store on a corner in Washington Heights with his teenage cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV). Everyone has big dreams in this movie. Usnavi wants to go back to the Dominican Republic and open his late father’s old restaurant. His friend Benny (Corey Hawkins) wants to be a successful businessman. His boss had recently sold part of his business to put his daughter Nina (Leslie Grace) through her first semester at Stanford. Usnavi has his eyes on Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) is trying to break out and move downtown to focus on a dream of designing clothes. The neighborhood is slowly dying, and the heat is not helping. Even the piragua guy (Huh, Hamilton?) is struggling to sell his ice shavings to the kids due to the new ice cream truck guy (Wait, is that George Washington?). The group navigates over a three-day span dealing with challenges and dealing with them together.

That is the biggest theme of this musical – community, family, and sticking together through the good times and bad times. Washington Heights is not just a setting, but a character in itself. Usnavi lives with the neighborhood Abuela, Claudia (Olga Merediz), who has raised many of those in the neighborhood. And like any family, they support each other. One character is torn between leaving back to where he was born to relive the good memories. Another does not feel that they are living their parent’s dream instead of their own. Throughout the musical and a tragedy, the lesson of community comes out stronger than it does at the beginning of the film. Everything comes together for everyone, even if it was not according to their plan. 

Another aspect of this musical that’s worth mentioning is the lessons of immigrants and those who are relatively new to the United States. Abuela is the daughter of Cubans escaping Communism. Usnavi’s father came as a child with his parents looking for work. There is a plot point of a character not exactly being of legal status. A factor that drives a lot of characters is continuing why their parents came here – for a better life. I enjoy seeing this perspective while balancing a respect for where your family came from. My late grandfather was an immigrant to the United States and my father tells me stories about how my grandpa describing how grateful he was for America, and we see that here. They do mention the hardships and trials they had while coming here but there is a constant push to continue to make life better for their children.

The movie is directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians, Step Up 2 & 3D) who combines his excellent use and experience with the camera work and choreography to tell this story better than anyone else could on film. I felt engulfed in Washington Heights, making it feel larger than life. Miranda’s music is almost as good as Hamilton’s soundtrack, it is on point, and you can see that this was the stepping stone that leads him to perfect his style to create Hamilton.

I will still be downloading and listening to it multiple times (don’t tell my sister).

Overall, very little to complain about and I give In The Heights a Must Watch.


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