"In the Heights" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Lin-Manuel Miranda achieved worldwide stardom for his hit Broadway play, "Hamilton", which documented the life of American Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. The play took the world by storm, and even though it focuses on the founding of America, has been brought to different countries for everyone to enjoy. However, before "Hamilton" and all of the hype surrounding the actor/songwriter, he made a smaller Broadway play called "In the Heights", which focused on a small community called Washington Heights in New York. The community is filled with people of different cultures and backgrounds who all dream of a better life in this great musical that celebrates dreams and a sense of community.
The film's main protagonist is Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who is the owner of a Bodega in the neighborhood. He is saving money with dreams to go back to the Dominican Republic to reopen his father's business, and be able to provide a life for him and his future wife and kids. Along the way, he falls in love with Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who is a local girl in the community.
At the same time as Usnavi's story progresses, one of his childhood friends, Nina (Leslie Grace) has returned home from a prestigious school with news that she dropped out. She isn't happy with her place at school, and wants to come back and help the family business in the small neighborhood. She also falls for Benny (Corey Hawkins), and decides to pursue a relationship with him as well. The whole theme of the film is dreams and older regrets, which is present in both the younger main characters and their older parents or side characters.
This film has a sense of melancholy combined with joyous celebration. These characters are down on their luck in many different circumstances, but don't let their hardships get them down. It is more of a celebration of life, and celebrating their differences and how it unites them.
The film also touches on the topic of racism and discrimination quite a bit throughout its runtime. One major case is the story of Nina, who is wanting to drop out of college due to the way the other students treat her based on the color of her skin and heritage. I think that every character suffers from this tragedy of racism throughout the movie, both on and off screen. It is definitely hinted at through many of the musical sequences and dialogue present between the characters.
I definitely think racism is a sensitive topic, even for today, and the film delivers social commentary on it beautifully. It's not often when there is a film that celebrates Latin American heritage, and this movie seems like a jubilant celebration of who they are and where they are at in their lives.
The music and dancing in this film is spectacular, and tons of fun to watch. The actors and dancers seem like they are having the time of their lives with every musical number present. Perhaps the best are the opening number and the "9600" musical number. The opening performance is able to set up every character in the movie, and give all the context the viewer is going to need going forward in the film, which is crucial to the plot. But, the "9600" number is perhaps the most fun and brilliant in the entire film. It takes place at the community swimming pool, and it is just oozing energy and the characters' personalities and sass. It focuses on what each character would do if they won the lottery, and it shows who the characters are and their dreams for their future. On a technical side, the choreography and cinematography is just beautiful and immerses the viewer into these musical numbers.
At the same time, the acting performances are spot-on, as well as being fresh and fun. Ramos gives the performance of his career as the main character, and is just a fun and enjoyable character. The other actors, like Grace and Hawkins, also give excellent performances, and they both have excellent on-screen chemistry in every scene they are in. You can tell these two characters are head-over-heels for one another, so it's a great moment in the film when they finally decide to pursue a relationship with one another. I also enjoyed the quirky cameos from Miranda and Christopher Jackson, who played Benny in the Broadway production of this film, as well as playing George Washington in "Hamilton".
Overall, I think this is a great and faithful adaptation of a great Broadway musical. Director Jon M. Chu definitely knows what he is doing, and it's a good thing that he was able to secure the director spot for the upcoming adaptation of the Broadway play, "Wicked". This movie never seems to slow-down from the opening scene, and is a beautiful representation of dreams and heritage of America.