Possible spoilers ahead!
The new film “In the Heights” was directed by Jon M. Chu and based on the Broadway play by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The story set in New York City’s Washington Heights follows Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos), a bodega owner who dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic to fulfill his father’s dreams. His best friend Benny (Corey Hawkins) works at the local dispatch company owned by Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), the father of Nina (Leslie Grace).
Nina has just returned from her first year at Stanford and is trying to figure out how to tell her friends she’s decided to drop out of school. Then there’s Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) dreams of becoming a fashion designer downtown, but struggles with how to make that a reality. All of the events take place over several days amid a summer heatwave, with each of the characters choosing what their next big steps in life should be, but also with how their decisions will affect their neighborhood.
I didn’t know what to expect from the film version of “In the Heights.” While I knew what the basic story was about, I hadn’t listened to any of the music and none of the trailers had blown me away, and since I saw “Hamilton” last summer on Disney+, I figured there was no way this musical would be as good. But you know what? “In the Heights” exceeded all my expectations and then some
The film centers on a few characters from the Latinx community, but I thought it was a celebration of life. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or when you were born because “In the Heights” is easily accessible to everyone and that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed the movie so much.
The story and the music will have you laughing and perhaps shedding some tears. But the film does a good job balancing the ups and downs the characters experience. A;l; of the main characters are likable and all are well developed. It also helps that the cast have great chemistry, especially Corey Hawkins and Leslie Grace. But the big highlight for me was Melissa Barrera as Vanessa. She had some of my favorite scenes in the movie and has a great duet with Usnavi de la Vega in the third act of the movie.
Another reason I liked “In the Heights” is the way the film uses New York City as a setting. I never got the sense the film was shot on a lot, and every building from the bodega to the Abuela’s house felt like they were real places. And being able to pull off stuff like that, elevates any movie. The city setting gave the musical numbers a lot of energy too, like in the “carnival” number.
Since its release last week there has been a lot of talk about the casting choices made for “In the Heights.” I honestly didn’t notice anything while I watched the movie, but once the topic was brought up I thought “Oh yeah, that’s a good point.” Still, I don’t think anyone involved with the movie went in with bad intentions. The way I see it, they were telling the story of these particular characters, and they accomplished that.
When it comes to complaints I have about “In the Heights” I only have one: The movie is too long. But I’m not sure what (if anything you could cut. However, at almost two and a half hours, I started to doze after the bodega found out they’d sold a winning lottery ticket. Of course, starting the movie after 10 pm probably wasn’t a good idea. Luckily the music pulled me back in and I was fine the rest of the way.
Because “In the Heights” comes from Lin-Manuel Miranda, I’m sure a lot of people will compare it to “Hamilton.” But as I found out, you can’t compare the two. “In the Heights” is its very own thing, and a damn good one too thanks to fun and likable characters and music that will keep your foot tapping the entire time. So yeah, this movie is long, but in the end, it was well worth it.
“In the Heights” final grade: B+