In the Heights follows Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) who runs a bodega shop in Washington Heights. He dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic. Usnavi’s love interest, Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), works at the local salon, but dreams of being a downtown fashion designer. They both want to get away from their town and chase their dreams, but find themselves stuck.
The block is full of other characters as well. There’s Nina (Leslie Grace), whose visiting home for the summer from Stanford and is folding a bit under the pressure of other people’s expectations. Benny (Corey Hawkins) who helps dispatches cab with Nina’s father. Not to mention Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), who is the matriarch of Washington Heights, and Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega), who has to move her salon location since she was bought out.
While Usnavi’s and Vanessa’s love story is compelling and at the center of the film. Nina and Benny’s love story is lacking. The film changed the stage musicals story a bit here and it left Benny with not much to do or contend with in the film. I was luckily enough to see the stage musical and I do prefer that to its big screen adaptation here.
My biggest gripe with the film has to be the changes in original story. The characters already struggle enough, and while I know what the film is trying to do and tie the story more into today’s time, it doesn’t have to be. This mostly has to do with Sonny’s arc, played by Gregory Diaz IV, and while you do feel for him and many Latinos are familiar with his struggle, it just feels hammered in. As said before, it just took me out of the film. We know what issues we face, the film doesn’t need to double down on it. It kind of sucked the enjoyability out, but I did really enjoy Diaz IV’s performance as Sonny.
The film is 2 and a half hours long and you can definitely feel the length. The movie has a strong opening, but fails to keep up that energy. I also was not a fan of the story device of Usnavi narrating this story to children in the Dominican Republic, it just took me out of the fun of watching the community interactions in Washington Heights. But while the film is too long and I wasn’t a fan of all of the story points, the acting and music were great.
Anthony Ramos is great as Usnavi, he’s charming, charismatic, and you just want him to accomplish his sueñito. But I do think that Vanessa’s and Usnavi’s will they won’t they storyline did go on a bit too long. Olga Merediz gets to shine as Abuela Claudia in one of the film’s most touching numbers with Paciencia y Fe. I had a lot of fun with the character Daniela and the other salon ladies. I also really like Nina’s college storyline though I also felt her romance with Benny was a bit lacking.
The dance numbers were absolutely incredible. I was just so impressed with the director, Jon M. Chu, in how he was able to capture all the chorography and add different stylistic devices in each song. My favorites songs were definitely 96,000, Paciencia y Fe, and Carnaval del Barrio. The songs in the film do tend to sound similar and aren’t as smartly written as Hamilton, but they’re still undoubtedly catchy.
Overall In the Heights is a film that celebrates community and culture. The film made me want to live in Washington Heights and understands the beauty of such a place. The film is honestly just so joyous and that’s what matters. Latinos do not get to shine on the big screen very much, and I was just so proud that this film has an almost all Latinx cast at its center. Just give us more Latino led blockbusters Hollywood. We deserve it.
I give In the Heights a B+