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IN THE HEIGHTS review -The film we didn’t know we needed

Title: In The Heights 
DirectorJon M. Chu
CastAnthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, and Jimmy Smits
Movie length: 2 hours 23 minutes

What it is: Lin-Manuel Miranda brings his and Quiara Alegria Hudes’ successful Broadway musical to the big screen.  

What Nika thought: Jon Chu bring his keen eye to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical extravaganza In the Heights, interweaving each celluloid into a vivid tapestry of song, dance, and love. 

Set against the New York City bustle, the depth of the story lies in its purposeful movement in each scene. Music and dance flow with a flair that demonstrates the colorful beauty that highlights each one of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs, and breathes life into characters that you love, connect with, and cheer for, no matter where you came from. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Macall Polay

It begins with Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and his sueñito (dream) to one day return to the Dominican Republic despite his multilayered life embedded in the Latinx community of The Heights. A life that includes his secret crush Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) who seeks her own path out of the neighborhood through fashion; his neighbor Nina (Leslie Grace) who struggles with the weight of expectations; and his best friend Benny (Corey Hawkins) whose life seemingly exists in limbo for Nina’s return. 

Yet some of the most memorable scenes may belong to the film’s secondary characters like Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), whose selfless act and subway scene may just leave your tear ducts leaking far more than you intended.  

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros

Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega) and her two flanking chismosas (gossip girls) serve as comical demonstrations of that one Tia (Aunt) we all know. Her confidence translates fantastically on screen.  

Clocking in at over two hours, each character’s story is carefully laid out for the audience, and effortlessly tied into the next scene without pause, proving that Jon Chu’s success with Crazy Rich Asians was not a fluke.  

Nika’s Grade: A+, Decades ago I watched Rita Moreno roll her r’s as Anita in West Side Story and it was everything to this little brown girl.  

It didn’t matter that she wasn’t Mexican, I was aware of the differences between those Latinx that emigrated by land and those that emigrated by sea. Nonetheless, there she stood strutting with unapologetic Hispanic swagger all over the screen, a representation of force and strength that simply wasn’t allotted to faces similar to mine.  

In the Heights emulates that force in modern day, each character an individual demonstration of the varying Latinx cultures that occupy so many immigrant based communities all over the United Sates. The consistent flip flop between Spanish and English between the characters serves as a uniting force, but the attention to the subtle differences in dialects between each ethnicity feels purposeful to honor the different paths that were taken. And honor it did, from each moment to moment it reminded us of the unifying quality of being both tied both to our communities and to our dreams. And while the LGBTQ+ and dark skinned Afro-Latinx representation was wanting, something ignored in true Latinx communities as well and  therefore that much more needed in film, it touched ever so slightly on their presence, giving us hope that this is just the beginning.  

In the Heights transcends the label Hollywood places on films with prominent ethnic representation, and becomes just an American tale.  

But forgive me if I claim the excitement of Latinx representation for the little brown girl that once wished for more Rita Moreno’s in film.  

In The Heights is currently playing on HBO Max and in theaters.

Viewed for your benefit by your Melanin Gifted Film Critic. 

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