Film Review: In the Heights

Mild spoilers ahead!

Tell me this doesn’t look fun just by looking at the poster.

In The Heights is the best musical I’ve seen put to film. To be clear, that statement excludes 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain, which is the undisputed king of film musicals. So, In the Heights is the best musical in 69 years (nice), so not bad.

Based on the 2008 Broadway production by famed Lin-Manuel Miranda about characters in the Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City dealing with life and their dreams, the film adaptation is the first movie to make you feel like, “The movies are back.” The movies are freaking back!

I saw this on IMAX, which I highly recommend given the beauty of this film, directed by Jon Chu, and the expansive musical numbers, especially, “96,000,” in the swimming pool. You will know.

Chu’s film is colorful, joyful, heartfelt, and even has moments of magical realism that add to the musical numbers, like, “When the Sun Goes Down,” with the dancing on the side of the building. Gosh, that was cool.

The build-up to “96,000,” here was great, too.

Anthony Ramos as the main character, Usnavi de la Vega, was perfectly cast. He oozes charm and a certain whimsy that fits his character. Usnavi wants to return to his familial roots in the Dominican Republic because that’s where he thinks his sueñito is, or dream.

Along with him, are Nina Rosario (played by Leslie Grace), who did leave the neighborhood to go to Stanford, but wants to drop out after both feeling the burden of her heritage and facing abject racism; and Vanessa Morales (played by Melissa Barrerra), who is Usnavi’s love interest, but also dreams of leaving the neighborhood to move to a better apartment and start her fashion business. She also faced struggles with her rental application.

There’s also Sonny (played by Gregory Diaz IV), who wants to go to New York University, and Daniela (played by Daphne Rubin-Vega), who is moving her nail salon to Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, as the film takes place largely over a three-day span, a blackout occurs, which hits the metaphor home that all of these character feel “powerless.” But they learn they aren’t and that perhaps, their dreams are closer to home than they realize. That they don’t have to run to the Dominican Republic to realize those dreams or leave Washington Heights to become a fashionista somewhere else.

The beautiful subtext throughout the film, too, is that the best of America is its diversity. When Usnavi’s father brought him to America and he arrived on the shores, he saw a U.S. Navy ship, hence “Usnavi.” That’s beautiful. Or that Sonny was standing up for DACA recipients at a protest, and then realized he couldn’t go to NYU since he’s undocumented.

Usnavi steps up to help him get his green card, but it’s also a straightforward display of how difficult it is to become a citizen in the United States and how unfair the whole system is. Most Americans have no clue how onerous the path to citizenship actually is for undocumented immigrants or immigrants in general. Sonny works hard, gets good grades, and is talented. And yet.

I loved this movie. I had chills at certain points, a huge smile on my face at others, and felt tense and sad at still, others.

The dancing choreography is so dang impressive, especially, again, the pool scene. I don’t know how they did some of these! The fact of awesome dancing occurring in the peripheral of the main stars is wild, too.

Lovely, lovely film that I cannot highly recommend. Go see it on IMAX!

Probably the most beautiful scene and dance number of the film here.

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