Review: ‘In the Heights’ Is the Movie We Need Right Now

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It’s time! After almost a year of a delay due to the pandemic, it is time for the premiere of In the Heights, the must-see movie of the summer. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jon M. Chu come together and bring the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical to the big screen. Oh, and keep your eye out for a Hamilton nod.

There will be spoilers beyond this point.

In the Heights is narrated by the charming Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who has taken over his family’s bodega after his parents passed, working there with his teenage activist cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV). He dreams of buying that one-way ticket to go back to the Dominican Republic to reopen a bar on the beach, his father’s. As we get to know the characters, we get to know their individual dreams as well. I have to give a round of applause to the cinematography for the opening scene. We see Usnavi looking out the bodega window and the reflection of the dancers in the window. There are so many remarkable shots like this throughout the movie, I have to give standing applause.

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There is Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) who works at the salon and wants to move to Manhattan to become a fashion designer. She is also the harbored crush of Usnavi since their high school days. Kevin (Jimmy Smits) owns a car service and is willing to do what he can for Nina (Leslie Grace) to go to an elite school — even if it means losing his business. Meanwhile, Nina is home for the summer trying to figure out how to tell her dad that she dropped out. She may even be reigniting that spark between herself and her ex Benny (Corey Hawkins), who works for her dad. Then there is the matriarch of the community, Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), who has the most moving reminiscing moment when she remembers her mother leaving Cuba for New York. Her singing “Paciencia y Fé (Patience and Faith)” gave me chills, and I was not okay.

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Washington Heights is a character in its own right as well. Shot on location, Chu morphs something magical where mundane trips to the pool become a theatrical experience, or you may find yourself dancing on the side of a building, and even the sounds of the city become musical. The beautiful vivid colors were giving an almost animated feeling, but I cannot imagine it any other way.

There is a lengthy blackout during the hottest days in the summer, referencing the Washinton Heights blackout in 1999. The power eventually comes back on in a very poetic nature. Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega) gets everyone together and celebrates to boost spirits. At the height of the celebration, the power comes back.

Everyone finds out that a winning lottery ticket for $96,000 was sold at the bodega, and everyone dreams what they would do with that money. It is not until the end of the movie that we find out who had the winning ticket, what comes of it, and what paths all the characters took. One I will spoil is Nina’s. After learning at a protest that because he is undocumented, Sonny cannot go to college, Nina decides to go back and find a way for Sonny and other undocumented teens to be able to.

“Little details that tell the world we are not invisible.”

In the Heights also addresses serious issues like the racism and prejudice that Nina experiences when she is away at university. At one point, she is mistaken for wait staff, and during another moment, her belongings being searched when her roommate loses an expensive necklace (even though it was in the roommate’s bag), with no apologies received. We see Sonny and other characters at protests as well.

It also has Latinx characters in realistic roles and grounded stories and not in the Hollywood roles of a gang member. It shows a community that is like family.

In the Heights is directed by Jon M. Chu and written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes. The all-star cast includes Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Stephanie Beatriz, Jimmy Smits, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Olga Merediz, Marc Anthony, Dascha Polanco, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Ariana Greenblatt to name a few.

Those wanting to see it, and you should, can watch it in select theaters, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, Apple, and more.

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By Sarah
As a Ravenclaw and introverted tattooed cat, Sarah enjoys reading, writing, and watching hockey (Go Leafs Go). You can follow Sarah on Twitter at @WyldeFandom
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