In the Heights (2021)
Director: Jon M. Chu
Screenwriters: Quiara Alegría Hudes, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring: Anthony Ramos, Melissa Berrera, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits
Based on the hit Broadway musical from acclaimed writer Lin-Manuel Miranda, In the Heights tells the story of a New York based Latin American community, Washington Heights, in the build-up to a blackout that changes their lives in ways they could never have predicted. Offering bright colours, stunning visuals and a stellar soundtrack, In the Heights is a force to be reckoned with and will likely be one of the biggest films of the summer.
Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born) leads the cast as Usnavi, a New Yorker originally from the Dominican Republic and with dreams of one day returning to reopen his late father’s beach bar. Ramos delivers the role with gumption and heart in a way that feels fresh and innovative. After the roaring success of Miranda’s musical sensation, “Hamilton” (2019), which also starred Ramos as John Laurens/Phillip Schyler, the two working together for In the Heights confirms that their artistic partnership is a match made in heaven. Ramos’ performance is profoundly watchable, thanks both to his triple threat talent and the assistance of his supporting cast.
Usnavi is surrounded by friends and family, but no one is more important to him than his beloved Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz). Claudia is Usnavi’s non-related grandmother who raised him after he lost both his parents. Thanks to his upbringing in Claudia’s kind care, Usnavi also reflects the caring older brother figure to Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), his scrappy young cousin who dreams of becoming a college graduate one day.
Nina (Leslie Grace) makes her grand return back to Washington Heights after her first semester at college on the west coast to try and find the courage to admit to her father, local businessman Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), that due to racial issues she wants to drop out. As she walks down the streets she grew up on, she bumps into her ex-boyfriend and close friend Benny (Corey Hawkins) who works for Kevin. The two rekindle their teenage love for each other in a blossoming love story which compliments the rest of the film. This truly is an ensemble piece.
Usnavi’s dream, and the one that drives the intent of the entire story, is to move Claudia and Sonny back to the Dominican Republic with him and live a life of bliss in the sunshine. But as the summer gets hotter and hotter in New York and the city plunges into darkness due to a blackout, things don’t quite go to plan for Usnavi and his family.
Along with being colourful and somewhat otherworldly, as a lot of musicals often are, In the Heights successfully educates us on the struggles of immigrants in the US, a subject that is very close to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s heart. In the Heights specifically expresses the daily struggle for Latinos. Vanessa (Berrera), Usnavi’s love interest, has the ambition to become a fashion designer in Manhattan, and whilst working at a hair salon she manages to save enough money to buy her own apartment, but due to not having the right signatures on her papers she is rejected. These moments don’t take away from the brilliance of the musical but help to emphasise the importance of telling stories of this nature.
Director Jon M. Chu echoes the success of his huge summer hit Crazy Rich Asians (2018) by filling the screen with his creative filmmaking skills and ensuring that for all the serious messaging, the film remains uplifting. In the Heights is jam-packed with powerful performances and fuelled by huge ensemble dance numbers all to the sound of Miranda’s addictive soundtrack; it truly is the uplifting, heartfelt, feel-good film that the world needs.
As we enter into what is likely to be a musical-fuelled summer of cinema, In the Heights has set the bar incredibly high for the likes of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, West End hit Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Broadway favourite Dear Evan Hansen.
In the Heights is likely to be the summer movie of 2021.
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