In the Heights (2021) Movie Review by Daresalam Ayalew
In the Heights (2021) is a Broadway musical film adaptation that became a subject of many internet discussions for both positive and negative. The movie follows the story of various characters in Washington Heights, a predominantly latino NYC neighborhood. For 2 hours and 23 minutes, we’re captivated by the interconnected lives of the people of this town and how they are coping with gentrification and community loss while at the same time, trying to achieve their “suenito,”— little dream. It’s not only a beautiful piece about a tight-knit community in NYC, but also a political statement regarding the systemic issues rampant in urban areas.
Firstly, the writing of this musical-turned-movie is enjoyable but has several flaws. The characters are somewhat simple and are written to cling to one identity. There is a very apparent lack of intersectionality. Black-Hispanic characters, for example, either have the experiences of being Black or Hispanic, but not both. Furthermore, Lin Manuel Miranda came under fire this summer for the colorism in this film. Washington Heights is known for being majority populated with Afro-Latinos, but this demographic was severely underrepresented in the film, highlighting the longstanding bias towards lighter skinned latinos in Hollywood. Aside from that, the narrative arc of this film was one of my favourite aspects. Each character has a very individualized conflict that still follows this central theme of a “little dream,” which made the story feel interesting as well as cohesive. Unfortunately, the ending seemed too abrupt and made the movie feel incomplete.
Next, the sound design was impeccable. Considering it was a broadway musical, I would've been surprised if it wasn’t. The soundtrack for this movie is one of my favorites, and songs like “Breathe,” “No Me Diga,” “Carnaval Del Barrio,” and “Blackout” are now permanent additions to my playlist. All of the music fits well with the corresponding scenes and manages to tell the story way better than the actual writing. I loved the latin music infused with American pop, because it was symbolic of the 2 cultures Latino immigrants identify with. Also, for a movie that came out in the summer, the upbeat music was a good call.
Onto the acting, I’m usually most critical about this aspect of a movie but “In the Heights” surpassed my expectations. Broadway musical film adaptations tend to be some of the worst at getting good actors, but not this one. The acting was great except for the occasional instances, and even then, those simply added to the comedic tone of the movie. Furthermore, I loved the exaggerated facial expressions, because it was both funny and useful for understanding the moods of certain moments. The scenes with Anthony Ramos (Usnavi) and Gregory Diaz IV (Sonny) were my favourite because they’re such talented actors with amazing chemistry.
In conclusion, In the Heights (2021) written and directed by Lin Manuel Miranada is an entertaining movie about a Latino neighborhood in NYC. Through its amazing sound design, central theme, and acting, I was engaged the whole duration of the movie, however the writing had several flaws, especially in regards to Black characters. For a movie that was described as a remarkable cultural and political commentary, it did not live up to those standards. If I had to rate this movie, I’d give it a 3/5 because it's certainly enjoyable to watch but not revolutionary or innovative by any means.
Written by Daresalam Ayalew (PFF 2022 Leadership Team - Assistant Photographer)