In The Heights
In the Heights (2021) movie review
Based on the stage musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes, In the Heights follows the owner of a bodega in Washington Heights, New York, who wants to follow his dream and return to Dominican Republic, his home country. Of course for anyone unfamiliar with the play, the story really revolves around a cast of characters, each trying to follow their dreams. The film, directed by Crazy Rich Asians (2018) director Jon M. Chu, was released this past weekend to a strong reception from audiences and critics. At least as far as ratings go, as the film only opened in second place at the US box office to $11.5 million.
In the Heights might not be the best musical of all time, or even the last few years, but it is worth going to see! Now, I’ll be honest, I’ve spend the last few days thinking about this movie and what to write about it. As much as I liked it, I simply don’t have to much to say for an in-depth review. So before I go on, let’s get to the selling point. If you want to see it, go see it! It’s a great time! If you don’t care, you don’t care. That’s fine. Miranda’s musical style of rap-singing isn’t for everyone. If you aren’t sure though? Maybe give it a shot! Check out the trailer, listen to the first track of the soundtrack- see if it jumps out. I think it’s probably worth watching anyway. You know, in case it wins Best Picture at the Oscars next year…
Speaking of music, there are some pros and cons here. I do like Lin-Manuel Miranda music style; it’s unique and might just define musicals for a while. His way of incorporating sing-speaking is also- interesting. It works! Somehow. That said, as amazing as some of the major musical numbers are (96,000, Paciencia Y Fe, and Carnaval Del Barrio to name a few), some of them are painfully forgettable. (Like When You’re Home. When does this song even happen? Rachel keeps telling me, but I legitimately don’t remember the song at all.) Also as fun as it is, Miranda sings Piragua and that two minutes couold have been spent elsewhere.
I feel like I’m just bagging on this movie. Not my intention! It’s great. But it does also have some time management issues. Now as someone who has seen the play, there are some elements that don’t carry over as well. The story with the lottery ticket feels sidelined, Nina’s mother was a great character that isn’t in the film, and some of the finale isn’t quite as impactful. That said, some of it works better than the play! For one, the music and setting have alot more energy! Power of editing right there. Plus the film introduces a frame story that not only carries the pacing, but weaves the narrative element into the film quite well.
Okay I’ll be honest, I don’t think this film will actually have enough steam to carry it to the Oscars. But if any one element in this film gets nominated, it should be Olga Merediz’s performance. She not only out-sings the rest of the cast, but for portraying a character with less screentime than the leads, she leaves a surprising emotional impact. That said, the rest of the cast also does an amazing job in this movie! There is a heavy blend of believable acting that goes into this film that really helps set it apart from many more ‘polished’ musicals if you will. And this couldn’t work better with the musical style on display! Plus it keeps it pretty fun!
Finally I really loved the cultural representation here! The film, and of course the play, has obvious inspiration from the lives of its creators. And it really leaves an impact the way the themes are woven into the character stories! The way the songs incorporate Spanish might actually be my favorite aspect of the music! But more than that, it doesn’t feel cheap. I’m not saying this would would in any way feel cheap for highlighting Latino culture so prevalently, just that is it so well fused with the film that it feels like it is part of the DNA in the story. And I LOVE it.
So if you haven’t decided to go see In the Heights yet, it probably don’t have much longer in theaters. Go check it out. The cast does a great job, the story is moving, the music is mostly wonderful! I mean it’s a musical, of course it has forgettable songs. But the editing and choreography and costume design- it’s just great! I get it, the music might not be for everyone. But in the absence of a recent musical blockbuster to boast about, In the Heights feels long overdue. Again, I don’t know how well it’ll actually hold up throughout the year. But for now, it’s top tier. 8/10.
So In the Heights? Did you see it? What did you think? Be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know! And if you liked this review and you want to read more like it (but probably better than this), let us know what you want to read next!
-review by Ryan Prince