In the Heights offers a couple of hours of high energy and feel good entertainment thanks to an enthusiastic and talented cast, along with brilliantly choreographed musical numbers.
The movie tells the story of a group of friends who live in the New York district of Washington Heights during a heat wave and subsequent power blackout.
The Heights has long been a vibrant Latino community whose residents have roots primarily in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. However, things are changing. The area is being gentrified and as a result shops are being taken over by affluent business owners charging far higher prices than the locals can afford.
Explaining these changes and the impact on its residents is Usnavi (Anthony Ramos). He works in the local bodega store where the locals buy their lotto tickets, morning coffees and small grocery items. Usnavi’s dream is to move back to the Dominican Republic to reopen his father’s old beachside bar. His family arrived in the USA when he was eight.
Usnavi ‘community’ includes Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) who is his and the neighbourhood’s much-loved unofficial grandmother There’s also his young cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), a bright, clever young student working part time in the bodega. Then there’s Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), whom Usnavi fancies. She is a talented fashion designer who currently works in a beauty salon owned by Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega). Daniela is one of the many store owners being forced out of The Heights by rising rents.
Vanessa’s best friend Nina (Leslie Grace), has returned to The Heights for the summer break. Studying at Stanford, she is one of the few Heights’ residents to attend such a college. But things aren’t going well because of racial discrimination. She wants to drop out but her father Kevin (Jimmy Smits), is determined she will continue her studies despite the financial burden he faces.
Also complicating her return to college is her love for Benny (Corey Hawkins), who is also one of Usnavi’s best friends and who works for the taxi service Nina’s father Kevin owns.
While In the Heights encompasses several issues including the area’s gentrification, undocumented citizens and discrimination, these are more underlying than direct. Just about everyone featured in the film is nice and is trying to do the right thing. Their stories and experiences are mostly relayed through song and impressively choreographed dance routines which include hip-hop, salsa, R&B, Latin and rap. Dance numbers are energetically performed by both lead cast members and a large supporting cast of dancers.
Given the feel of the movie it’s no surprise to discover it is based on the stage show of the same name, which debuted in 2005 and played on Broadway from 2008 to 2011.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, who together with Quiara Alegría Hudes wrote the musical, is said to live in The Heights and obviously has a great understanding and love of its people and culture. Miranda is now best known for his latest stage offering, Hamilton.
The decision by Miranda and director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) to film the movie within the Washington Heights district ensures the movie feels authentic, as does the casting which includes a mix of talented young actors and experienced performers. All are totally believable and also very likeable.
It’s the warmth, vitality and energy of all the actors together with the movie’s many joyous musical numbers and the celebration of the Latino culture that makes In the Heights so enjoyable to watch.
In the Heights opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday June 24.
*Photo credit: Macall Polay. © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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