The summer movie season is upon us, and the major backlog of films pushed due to Covid-19 are finally seeing the light of day. Over the past years, many films have pushed back their release date, one of those films being the highly anticipated In the Heights. Based on Quiara Alegría Hudes’ and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stage musical of the same name, Jon M. Chu’s screen adaptation is an uplifting summer spectacle meant to be experienced in theaters. Following a dreary film season as well as a somber time in American history, In the Heights is perhaps even more timely now than during its initial stage debut in 2005. Even though the film is releasing a year after its original slot, it was well worth the wait.
As Jon M. Chu directs the film adaptation of In the Heights, it reunites the talents of Quiara Alegría Hudes (who wrote the screenplay based on her stage play) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (as lyricist and composer). The three talents combined make for a movie-going event that not only stays true to the source material but offers something fresh and exciting for both lovers of the stage musical and newcomers.
Set in the neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City, In the Heights primarily follows Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos) and his friends and family, who have grown up together for the majority of their lives. The film takes place over the span of three days and reaches its climax with a blackout during the hottest point of the summer.
With an all-star cast, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s vision of Washington Heights is made of heartfelt characters such as Abuela, (Olga Merediz) Sonny, (Gregory Diaz IV) Vanessa, (Melissa Barrera) Nina, (Leslie Grace) Benny, (Corey Hawkins) Daniela, (Daphne Rubin-Vega) Carla, (Stephanie Beatriz) Cuca, (Dascha Polanco) and Kevin (Jimmy Smits).
Played by the talented and charismatic Ramos, Usnavi is the gateway to the rest of the souls of Washington Heights. Working tirelessly manning a bodega along with his cousin Sonny, Usnavi hopes to return home to the Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, drama unfolds throughout the neighborhood. Nina returns home from her first semester at Stanford (while her father, Kevin, ponders how to pay for her tuition) and rekindles her relationship with Benny. Vanessa is an aspiring fashion designer yearning to move further Downtown. And on top of that, salon owner Daniela faces relocating her shop due to being priced out.
From start to finish, In the Heights is a musical odyssey. The film opens with the upbeat title song, “In the Heights,” then hits an early emotional note with “Breathe.” Some other showstoppers are “96,000” and “Carnaval del Barrio.” Overall, In the Heights doesn’t have a song or moment that isn’t enjoyable. Once again, combined with the writing talents of Quiara Alegría Hudes, Lin-Manuel Miranda exhibits his amazing ability to intertwine words and sound to create something beautiful.
The film’s culminating moment is Olga Merediz’s performance of “Paciencia Y Fe.” A beautiful tribute to Latino immigrant culture and the American dream, “Paciencia Y Fe” solidifies Merediz’s role as the heart of In the Heights. Part of the original Broadway cast, Merediz makes a great transition to film, proving she was the ONLY fit for the role. While the entire ensemble cast shines, the film is Merediz’s, and she’ll likely be in conversation during the coming award season.
What’s most special about In the Heights is that it shines a light on an often overlooked community on film. There’s certainly a lot to resonate with anyone. For me, what resonated the most was its deconstruction of the American Dream and its definition of home. We often search for meaning and “home” elsewhere, but what we’re looking for the most is often in our own backyard, or at least on our own block. Also, In the Heights runs home that it’s important to live in the now and appreciate those we love and the experiences we share…because if you’re too busy working towards a destination, you’ll miss out on all the little things to enjoy on the way.
Weaving the lives of all of its characters together, In the Heights is mostly light-hearted but hits on some serious subjects such as our working culture, gentrification, immigration, and equality in college education (and more). One of the best films of the year, In the Heights, is a special experience that marks our return to cinemas. A celebration of Latino culture and New York City, as well as love, life, and the pursuit of happiness, In the Heights contains a message of hope that’s well-needed right now. A bonafide awards contender, In the Heights is a film we’re likely to continue talking about in the months (and years) to come. In other words, “The time has come!”
IN THE HEIGHTS OPENS IN THEATERS AND WILL BE AVAILABLE ON HBO MAX JUNE 11, 2021.