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Movie Reviews

In The Heights ★★★



Director: Jon M. Chu

Cast: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stephanie Beatriz, Jimmy Smits, Dascha Polanco, Susan Pourfar

Released: 18th June 2021 in UK Cinemas

The cinematic version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway sensation is an ebullient musical, which rarely runs out of charm. Set in the Washington Heights, Manhattan—the ever-vibrant Latinx diaspora with ever-changing economic situation (current keyword: gentrification)—In The Heights is a vivacious paean to Latin American culture and its diverse communities. Despite its topsy-turvy formulation of a socio-political message, the film turns viewers into live wires recalling their iconic pre-pandemic dance moves.  

It’s really warm in the Heights. Every day is scorching, and so are the residents’ emotions. They cavort non-stop, twirl maintenance holes like turntables, and make hoses and sprays sprinkle liquids in tempo. Occasionally, some enter the chasm of despair, but that’s alright. As a touching scene with a particular character’s tragic loss illuminates, when you’re at your lowest, you have a whole community behind you. And don’t you worry, it’ll elevate you to the “heights”.

The film follows an array of characters and their sueñitos (little dreams). Spotlighted the longest is Usnavi (Anthony Ramos). He’s a cashier in a small shop dreaming of opening a beach bar in the Dominican Republic. Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) is a hairdresser longing for a career in fashion design. Nina (Leslie Grace) has more of a sueño—she wants to utilise her Stanford degree to contribute to the community’s battle for equal opportunities. Others desire to move elsewhere or work their whole lives to send their children elsewhere. But how much would every single one of them love to win the lottery?! After experiencing the exuberant number in the swimming pool, viewers know how much.

Moulding a jolly fantasy dreamland with easily resolvable minor conflicts—a trait of many musicals—works perfectly for the film’s entertainment elements. However, maintaining that conflict-lacking vagueness during the argumentation gets you in a pickle. During the final act, In The Heights highlights many scattered ideas, which never materialise into a hard-hitting message. Perhaps, excessive duration was a worry; as it is, the film’s 143-minutes long. But, as they are, the various arguments feel like children whose parents try to spend time with each little one individually yet limitedly, and they’re left unfulfilled and needy for more attention.

Indeed, the Latinx experience is dramatised; there are discussions about casual racism, one’s sense of powerlessness, and the vicious tentacles of gentrification. Nonetheless, the message strategy’s impreciseness fails to communicate the reason for the community’s troubles. Is it systemic racism, small-business exploitation, price manipulation, or one’s resentfulness? If it’s a combination of all, how’s entombing yourself and your family within the community supporting its integration? One can assert that Usnavi is fine with the diaspora’s state, but Nina, for example, aims to put the Heights on the map of equality (which is a kind of integration, isn’t it?). If this ill-defined paragraph baffles you, then that’s how you’ll feel during the film’s final half-hour. But then you’ll still want to dance, I promise!

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