In the Heights (2021)

The COVID Pandemic has changed a lot about what we love about New York City; over the years it’s become something of an environment where opportunities have dwindled and the sense of community has been lost. From Gentrification and the Exodus of its residents, the city just isn’t familiar anymore. “In the Heights” is that reminder that once upon a time New York was about tight knit communities sticking together and beating the odds. And it’s a call to the idea that maybe it all can be reclaimed.

Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, “In the Heights” is set in Washington Heights, N.Y., and centers on a variety of characters. Usnavi is a bodega owner who pines for Vanessa, the gorgeous girl working in the neighboring beauty salon and dreams of winning the lottery and escaping to the shores of his native Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, Nina, a childhood friend of Usnavi’s, has returned to the neighborhood from her first year at college with surprising news for her parents. Ultimately, Usnavi and the residents of the close-knit neighborhood have to make life changing decisions that involve their home.

Many of the modern films about the Latin community have had common themes, and “In the Heights” follows the trend. While it’s a stunning, and beautiful film, at its core it’s about the American dream, and Gentrification which has destroyed the sense of community many neighborhoods once had in New York. While the narrative is literally all over the place, director John M. Chu masterfully juggles all the story lines, conveying a kaleidoscope of bold colors teamed with amazing choreography, and some stellar performances by a vibrant, exceptional cast. Everyone from Jimmy Smits, and Corey Hawkins, to Stephanie Beatriz are front and center.

Lin Manuel Miranda also gives a show stopping walk on performance as the neighborhood Piragua Guy. There’s even a welcome cameo that pretty much took me by surprise. Thankfully though, the lead performances by Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera are fantastic. Their undeniable tension paired with their excellent performances compliment the film and keeps their romance absolutely engaging from start to finish.  “In the Heights” pictures Washington Heights (and New York) as a land filled with promise, and while its idea of New York is optimistic, it also holds up to the mirror themes about lack of minority representation, and the inherent unfairness of the political and educational system toward people of color.

Much of “In the Heights” enhances the concrete landscape of Washington Heights while holding true to what many lower class residents endure day in and day out. From the ghettos, the scolding summers, the massive dinners, and yes, the annual summer black outs, the writers wonderfully evoke the life of the lower class Latin community but making their obstacles universal.  “In the Heights” is a marvelous musical drama that absolutely depicts the magic that can be New York City. Director Chu sets almost every scene with the stunning Washington Bridge towering in the background, while Corey Hawkins and Leslie Grace share a beautiful sunset draped dance number alongside an apartment building.

“In the Heights” is a marvelous musical epic; it’s a production excels with a universal tale about love, community, and family, and it’s easily one of the best films of 2021.

Now in Theaters and Streaming Exclusively on HBO Max.