“Lights up on Washington Heights, up at the break of day
I wake up and I got this little punk I gotta chase away
Pop the grate at the crack of dawn
Sing while I wipe down the awning
Hey y’all, good morning”
Name: In the Heights
Director: John M. Chu
Cast: Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrero, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Olga Merediz, Gregory Diaz.
Runtime: 143 mins.
IMDb rating: 7.5
My rating: 7/10.
Quick summary: Usnavi runs a bodega in Washington Heights and like all his neighbours, family and friends, he has big dreams but is not quite sure how to realise them. He dreams of returning to his native Dominican Republic and reopening his father’s beach bar, but unfinished business with his love Vanessa may keep him in Manhattan. Meanwhile, it is the hottest summer in New York in years and a blackout may cause friction between the neighbours but ultimately bring them together again.
The name Lin Manuel Miranda will mean different things and shows to many different people. Some may remember him for his cameo in the final season of How I Met Your Mother as the man who raps a lullaby to send Marshall’s baby to sleep on the bus. Others may know him for his role as Amy Santiago’s brother in Brooklyn 99. Those from a musical background, however, will know him as the driving force behind two of the most famous musical theatre productions and subsequent movies in the last decade. Hamilton took the musical theatre world by storm in 2015 in the Off-Broadway production. Miranda’s half-singing/half-rapping style was revolutionary. The audience was watching a biography of one of the founding fathers of the U.S.A. through a hip-hop hybrid sound that made everything interesting, fun and unmissable.
However, before Hamilton came In the Heights, a passion project of Miranda’s from his sophomore year in college that has now become one of the most enjoyable films of the summer. Originally a book written by Quiara Alegria Hudes, Miranda wrote a musical based off its contents that wowed his college peers and would eventually go on to win multiple awards over its run in theatres all over the world. Like Hamilton, the next place for it was the big screen and it exploded onto ours with jazz, hip-hop, rap and many other musical styles depicting life in Washington Heights.
During In the Heights we follow many different storylines about people living in this neighbourhood with big dreams while not quite sure how to get there. Surprise, surprise, there is not that much spoken dialogue as it is a musical after all. Don’t be expecting any breaks from the singing and dancing!
As a fan of musicals I was never going to see much wrong with this movie. It does run a little long at two and a half hours but that is generally how much time you would be spending in a theatre for the live production, if not longer. Movies are getting longer and longer run times these days anyways so it’s not that much longer than your average action movie.
The casting is fantastic, with Anthony Ramos, who played key roles in Hamilton, reprises his role as Usnavi from the Broadway production in 2018. Ramos is a brilliant singer but has the low register and the native Brooklyn accent to go straight into the rapping sections perfectly.
Usnavi’s love interest, Vanessa, is played by the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, Melissa Barrera. I fell in love multiple times in that movie with almost every single character but Melissa is the one I fell in love with the most. If you’re reading this Melissa, I am available every single night of the week as I am just watching movies.
Olga Merediz sings the most powerful song of the movie, Paciencia y Fe. She plays Abuela Claudia, the de facto matriarch of this particular section of Washington Heights. Merediz originated the role of Claudia in the original off-Broadway production of In the Heights in 2008. This particular song, about leaving Cuba for New York in the 1940s and having to work menial jobs for richer New Yorkers in the hope that the younger generation would have it better, is extremely powerful. The scene in the movie, where Abuela Claudia is in a trance like state on the night of a power blackout in the city, shows her flit between Havana and Manhattan as she struggles to know whether all of her sacrifices are worth it. Patience and faith are her key virtues which she tries to hold onto dearly.
I would highly recommend this movie to anybody really, unless you hate musicals. It is a fun, vibrant film with plenty of bangers to get you jiving in your seat with just enough sad, powerful songs to possibly get you crying in your seat. The ending is a bit weak in my opinion, but the best thing about musicals is that the power of the final song outweighs any crazy storyline. Unless we’re talking about Grease (1978). Why in God’s name did that car take flight and they just up and flew into the sky? Was the entire GCU (Grease Cinematic Universe) timeline set in a version if 1950s America where technology allowed cars to fly? These questions haunt my mind.