In the Heights: The film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical by Jon M. Chu is vibrant, sincere, and jumps off the screen Because of what it reflects, I wouldn’t be shocked if I kept referring to In the Heights as one of the best films of 2021. The film was originally planned for summer 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was pushed back a year, making it feel much more urgent because of its focus on society and what we owe to one another.
Jon. M Chu’s adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony-winning Broadway musical feels like a rich experience of a group coming together over a common history mixed with their individual dreams after a year of separation. In a time when we feel more divided than ever before, not only from those who disagree with us, but also from our friends and family.
In the Heights is a radiant celebration of how, even though we forge our own course, we’re never alone when we’re surrounded by people who care for us. Chu taps into an intense, sincere affection for a place and the people who live there, then unleashes a barrage of musical numbers that make you want to jump out of your seat and cheer. If there was ever a film that requested that people return to the cinema after a pandemic, this is it.
The film begins with Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a bodega owner, telling a group of children a storey about a land called Washington Heights, and then it becomes more of an ensemble piece following a group of dreamers. Usnavi wishes to return to his father’s birthplace of the Dominican Republic and open a beach bar.
Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), his crush, works in a nail salon but wishes to leave the barrio to pursue a career in fashion. Meanwhile, Usnavi’s friend Nina (Leslie Grace) has just returned from her first semester at Stanford, but she now wants to drop out and stay at home, much to her hardworking and cash-strapped father Kevin’s chagrin (Jimmy Smits).Despite the fact that she still attracts the attention of her old flame, Benny (Corey Hawkins).
These young characters and their friends all have a place in Abuela Claudia’s (Olga Merediz) house, where she doesn’t have any children of her own but makes it a point to look after the residents. With a blackout looming on the horizon on one of the hottest summer days, Washington Heights feels like it’s at a crossroads, not only for its inhabitants, but for the entire neighbourhood.
If you’re looking for In the Heights to be comparable to Miranda’s smash hit Hamilton, you’ll just find parallels in the music style, as Miranda employs his vast musical expertise to produce something unique and heartfelt. In the Heights, on the other hand, is a looser affair, lacking the driving power of history and a powerful central protagonist.
It isn’t limited to a particular character or circumstance. For these characters, the conflict is internal and emotional, and by exploring the conflict, In the Heights develops its own beautiful personality, with Miranda defying the stereotype of the young immigrant or first-generation American storey.
What’s going on with Nina is a perfect example of this. Nina’s path is clearly set out for her, with her father working long and hard hours so that his daughter, who worked just as hard, could attend an elite university and open new doors for her. Nina, on the other hand, is drawn back to her block and the people who live there.
She refuses to be pigeonholed into a single inspiring tale, demonstrating that Kevin’s dream is not the same as his daughter’s. In the Heights is continually questioning what a “better life” entails in terms of aspiration, and it always comes back to group reconstruction. The vivacity of In the Heights comes from its acceptance of the community and its inhabitants, not from grabbing at a brass ring.
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The script has also been revised since its Broadway run in 2008, and while some of the updates are amusing and slight (Usnavi makes a John Wick reference, for example), you can sense the potency when his cousin, neighbour, and coworker Sonny says, “They’re kicking out all the dreamers,” a line that would be corny if not seen in context. Though Usnavi, Vanessa, and others.
Sonny is a Dreamer, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) scheme, which impacts people like Sonny who were brought to the United States illegally as children and have no other home. This film was made in 2019, when there was (and still is) a very real chance (depending on who is in the White House in the future) that Trump will be elected President.Dreamers will be deported, denying them not only the American dream, but also their right to live in the United States.
In the Heights isn’t a DACA film—story Sonny’s is just one of many—but it does highlight that culture isn’t just a source of strength for its members; it can also be attacked by those who seek to manipulate fear and division.In the Heights, on the other hand, refuses to go into a defensive crouch. Chu’s masterful direction allows each musical number to burst off the screen. People don’t break into song and choreographed dance numbers, but the musical is already a fantastical genre.
Chu treats each number as if it were a show-stopper while maintaining the scene’s unique flavour. He’s not afraid to use animation or CGI, or to flip the universe on its head if necessary. Chu is also secure enough to provide small details that contribute to the overall flavour of a scene without detracting from the central action.
This can be seen in the numbers, where background actors use Christopher Scott’s excellent choreography to keep the energy pulsing throughout the scene. Chu puts it all together to make you care for the world and the people who live in it. He’s also supported by a stellar cast that serves as a springboard for a slew of newcomers. Ramos quickly transitions into Miranda’s role from the Broadway production, but he’s surrounded by a fantastic cast of rising stars. Melissa Barrera’s Vanessa and her character’s determination to achieve her goals while still keeping people at a distance are irresistible.
Though Usnavi and Vanessa’s love storey is sweet, the chemistry between Hawkins and Grace is electric, and you can’t help but cheer for these two young people to get together. Then there are the older members of the cast, with Olga Merediz’s spectacular solo number as Abuela Claudia acting as the piece’s beating heart and moral compass.
In the Heights is one of those films that captures you from the first minute and never lets go of its dominance. The film will alternate between English and Spanish on a regular basis, without always providing subtitles to English-only speakers in the audience.It makes these choices not to be exclusive, but because it values the Spanish-speaking people and culture represented so much.
Chu comes from a different background, but he understands the significance of what Miranda was trying to express with his musical. As a white viewer who grew up in Atlanta and was born in Minnesota, I’m not from the neighborhoods depicted in In the Heights, but I admire and appreciate what Chu and Miranda have created here, as well as the people they want to honor.