I am back again with my new series, Summer of Cinema and today I am recounting my experience of seeing In the Heights. I went along with a friend and we both enjoyed the film despite its long runtime. Our screen was fairly quiet and we were sitting more forward than I usually choose but it did not detract from this lively, culturally eye-opening and fun musical. If you saw Hamilton, then you will definitely enjoy In the Heights.
The setting for the musical is the area of Washington Heights in Manhattan and almost in the Bronx. The characters in the film are mostly all immigrants from Latin countries and the plot centres around them trying to make it in a world where they have not had advantages that others have had. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and starred in the original musical on Broadway that is the basis for the film.
The cast are a mixture of well-known faces: Anthony Ramos from Hamilton (another Miranda Broadway original); Jimmy Smits (The West Wing); Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn 99) and new comers: Melissa Barrera, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace and Gregory Diaz IV.
The story is set in Summer and centres around a city wide blackout. The residents all have their own dreams: Usnavi wants to carry on his father’s legacy in Dominican Republic; Vanessa wants to become a fashion designer in Midtown; Daniela wants to make her business work despite moving to the Bronx and Nina wants to leave her college and reconnect with her neighbourhood.
Throughout the film, we see each of these characters and others trying their best to fulfil these dreams. They try to get through the tough times to emerge out of the other side with their heads held high. Many of the songs centre around working hard as an immigrant in New York City and the challenges that come with being an immigrant. Much in the style of Hamilton, the songs are political, personal, full of truths about the world.
This is a story you can’t help but get lost in and swept up with the emotions of the Barrio and even though the struggles of the characters are not similar to my own, I felt that I could relate to their pain and their hope for the future. Especially after 2020, the film feels very timely. The characters make their own dreams come true without waiting around for the right time. They also compromise to make the best out of a situation.
I loved the setting and the massive dance numbers featured in the film. While on the streets of New York, the flash mob like crowds all dancing as one reminded you that this was heightened reality and a musical and not how things really work. That being said, the ideas and fears presented are very real to many people. One of my favourite numbers was 96,000 set at the local swimming pool where the characters all dream of what they would do if they won the lottery after the winning ticket was sold at the bodega.
Overall I enjoyed the vibe of the film and the colours and dance numbers helped me escape to another place for a while but still kept me grounded in the issues facing immigrants in New York. The film was long but the pacing was good and I didn’t find myself worrying about the time once I was enraptured by the film.
I give this film 4.5/5