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'In the Heights' is the Gold Standard for Movie-Musicals

In the Heights (2021)

5 / 5
5 / 5

In case you were running a little low on optimism this week, In the Heights starring Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace and Corey Hawkins will lift your spirits so sky-high, you’ll be dancing as you walk down the street. 

Inciting goosebumps from its opening number onward, this electrifying film follows a cast of young dreamers as they navigate the changes occurring on their block in Washington Heights. The Latin experience is explored from every angle as we follow Usnavi, and his cousin Sonny who run their small bodega as Usnavi prepares to make his way back to the Dominican Republic. Their friends Vanessa and Nina struggle with their place in the world as they pursue the dreams that lead them away from the neighbourhood they call home; and the tight-knit, family-like community that keeps the story’s heart beating provide laughter, fun and an overwhelming sensation of welcomeness as the musical unfolds. 

Anthony Ramos (Usnavi) and Melissa Barrera (Vanessa)

The talent of this cast is mesmerizing, and every character is especially written to bring their own unique joyfulness and wisdom to the table. From the vantage point of performers – this film does so many things correctly. I particularly appreciate how femininity and the female form is embraced through costume, dancing and body language as a means of expression, with a noticeable absence of the male gaze. It encourages the freedom of female viewers such as myself to immerse ourselves in the invigoration of movement. Another notable win is that the ensemble cast consists of talent of all ages and body types. 

The visual storytelling is incomparable. Just to be clear, this is what I expect from all movie-musicals going forward. Director Jon M. Chu and cinematographer Alice Brooks take advantage of every cinematic opportunity they can and elevate it, seamlessly weaving in special effects, large-scale spectacles and romantic, dreamy city-scapes. This film was made by an ingenious team firing on all cylinders that challenges the audience to keep up. In every frame, there are so many moving parts, and so many things to look at, it is clear that the motif of details and dreams resonate deeply with the creatives responsible for the visual elements of this piece. 

A celebration of Latin joy, In the Heights is an all-encompassing love story of cultural pride, tradition, family, home and romance. Finally steering away from the bare-minimum standard of representation for the Latinx community, this multi-generational enthralment conveys a message of dreaming as one in an eye-popping expression of love meant to be enjoyed by anyone and everyone.

Immigration is reflected as a two-sided coin: The fabric of their block is vibrant and beautiful; and similarly, there are hardships and feelings of ostracization. A juxtaposition that is often accentuated in the lyrics: feeling powerful, and simultaneously powerless. Ultimately, joy conquers all- as the overwhelming feelings of hope and pride ooze from every sequence.

Director Jon M. Chu and Co-writer Lin-Manuel Miranda


A delightful, spirited approach to a story that incorporates both love and loss, I adore how In the Heights manages to marry old-school musical inspiration with fresh perspectives and visual interests. The exorbitantly talented cast act as a shot of serotonin straight to the heart. This film gleams with long-awaited Latin pride from Hollywood and careful and appreciative insights from an equally diverse crew of creatives. This adaptation was definitely worth the wait, and its upbeat magic will serve nicely as a soundtrack to the rest of my summer. 

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