Turn up the volume on your dreams.
In the Heights is a 2021 musical drama film directed by Jon M. Chu, written by Quiara Alegría Hughes, produced by 5000 Broadway Productions, Barrio Grrrl! Productions, Likely Story, and SGS Pictures, and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. The film is based on the 2005 musical, In the Heights. It stars Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera. It was not nominated for any Academy Awards.
"Ignore anyone who doubts you." -Kevin Rosario
As a blackout nears Washington Heights, New York, the people on the block begin to pursue their dreams and try to move on from the city. A bodega owner, Usnavi de la Vega, tries to keep the block lively by dreaming about a better life. All the while, things begin to happen around Washington Heights that make the residents realize where their true home is.
Energy and Vibrant Visual Style / Set Incorporation / Acting / Comedy Versus Seriousness / Direction / Telling the Story Through Music / Payoffs / Well-Rounded Characters / Scenes In Between Songs / Plot-Hopping / Nina Actress' Voice
In the Heights has an energy unlike any movie I've ever seen. From the opening scene, there is a burst of light and fun that immerses you in this world and this block. The color scheme is filled with bright and vibrant colors. The choreography is absolutely incredible. Jon M. Chu's visual style is so memorable and so lively. Each musical number is just fantastic. They all have their own distinct flavor that makes each song and dance pop. I love how the dance numbers use the setting. The opening song uses all of these normal things: keys, benches, manhole covers, etc. to make a beat for the song itself.
And that's another thing. The movie is able to make things that aren't exciting in real life (convenience stores, dispatches, fire escapes) very energetic and very lively. The amount of energy and fun that is injected into In the Heights makes it a very easy movie to watch. Every set piece is stylized. They are all incorporated into the scene. It's super cool to see all of the creative ways that the sets are used in each song.
The actors also bring even more energy into this film. Anthony Ramos is perfect as Usnavi. I'm so glad that Lin Manuel-Miranda wasn't cast in the lead. While I love Lin, he is not the best actor. Either way, Ramos brings a levity and reality to this character that is put in a larger-than-life world. He has real emotions. When something good happens to him, his reaction is honest and feels like a real person reacting to this incredible thing.
I really thought that Corey Hawkins, who plays Benny, was the standout. He was so charming and so likable. Like the rest of the movie, he brings tons of energy to the screen. He can also balance the charisma and fun with the more serious moments. Melissa Barrera (Vanessa) was incredible as well. I think, out of our leads, she had the best singing voice. She definitely had the most serious role, and I think that her chemistry with Anthony Ramos was fantastic.
The film also has no shortage of memorable, wise lines as well as a surprising amount of jokes that got laughs from my entire theater. The serious moments were broken up with comedy throughout, and I thought that that was a really nice dynamic in the movie.
Jon M. Chu deserves an Oscar nomination for his direction in this movie. I've already raved about him, but there are a couple more points I need to make. While In the Heights is a very cinematic experience, Chu still makes it feel very much like a Broadway musical. Just for reference, I have not seen the Broadway production of In the Heights. But I could feel the atmosphere of a Broadway musical in this movie. And I thought that that aspect was really neat.
I also enjoyed that the film really tells a story through music. I'd say half of the movie is made up of songs and dance numbers, while the other half is dialogue and the usual stuff in a movie. But the story really progresses when there are songs. Most of the important things that happen happen during a musical number. And I think that the movie knew it should use the fantastic soundtrack to its advantage. The plot is moved through music, and I think that that's a great way to do this. All exposition and important stuff we need to know is sung, which puts an entertaining coating on top of it.
The film also uses payoff really well. There are moments that you are waiting to see throughout the entire film, and when they happen, it's so satisfying. These little moments are sprinkled throughout the film and brought back in the final fifteen minutes or so, and it makes the victory of the movie feel so good.
The characters are all well-rounded. They all have unique traits as well as interesting arcs. Nina's arc was the most compelling to me, but Usnavi and pretty much all of the other characters are able to have a full, developed arc. Every single character has something important to do throughout the film. As soon as you begin thinking that a character doesn't feel complete, the film has a five or ten minute section that focuses on just that character. Whether it's backstory, motivations, or something that is used to progress the story, every character has a big moment that makes them important to the film.
I can't rave about this film enough. In the Heights is, as of right know, my favorite movie of 2021.
I have two problems with the movie.
My first issue is I think that the film slows down a bit when it takes a break between musical numbers. The songs are so much more fun then dialogue-driven scenes, so, when there's a gap between two songs, you start to think "Okay....when is the next song gonna happen?". There's a chunk of about ten or fifteen minutes after the candlelight song that doesn't have any musical numbers, and that, to me, was the worst part of the movie.
Secondly, this movie does a lot of plot-hopping. There's a big cast of main characters, and it wants to develop all of them. It does a great job of fleshing out these characters and making them great, as I mentioned before, but there are times when Usnavi and/or Vanessa, who are the two main characters, disappear for fifteen to twenty minutes. It can just feel a little bit uneven at times because of that.
My final point isn't that big a problem, but I don't think that Leslie Grace (who plays Nina) has the greatest singing voice in the world. At least compared to the rest of the cast. She has a very high-pitched voice and it seemed that her solos may have been auto-tuned at points. She has duets with Benny and Usnavi and Vanessa, and Hawkins, Ramos, and Barrera are all better singers than she is.
In the Heights is an absolutely incredible film that has energy, fun, emotion, layered characters, and a ton of great musical numbers.
This is the first movie of 2021 that I will give a Sweet rating to. Age range is 8+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad)
"In the Heights"
Fun Factor: 8.5/10
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Rated PG-13 for moderate language, sexual elements, thematic elements
Released on June 11, 2021
2 hours and 23 minutes
Anthony Ramos as Usnavi de la Vega
Melissa Barrera as Vanessa
Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario
Corey Hawkins as Benny Jimmy Smits as Kevin Rosario
Gregory Diaz IV as Sonny
Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia
Daphne Rubin-Vega as Daniela
Olivia Perez as Iris
Lin-Manuel Miranda as Piragua Guy