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In the Heights Movie Review - Energetic and Timely

The American dream lives on in this feisty musical film.

Reviewed by on Jun 07, 2021
Rating: 5 Star Rating

Kidzworld reviews In the Heights the energetic and heartfelt musical brought to film from the Broadway stage. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s singing/dancing story of Latino dreams holds up nicely on film.

In In the Heights, Dominican Republic transplant Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) owns a small store in Washington Heights, New York. He saves every cent to return to his original country and fix up a bar/restaurant that his dad once owned. He is not-so-secretly in love with beauty salon worker Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) who wants to be a fashion designer. Everyone in the Heights has un Suenito (a little dream) and all are proud of Stanford college student Nina (Leslie Grace) whose car service owner dad Kevin (Jimmy Smits) scrimped and saved to send there. Nina reluctantly left boyfriend Benny (Corey Hawkins) behind. Now she is back and hiding the fact that she has dropped out. Mothering everyone is Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), an immigrant from Cuba who wants every young person in the barrio’s dream to come true. Can this happen?

Beloved Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) dances with young SonnyBeloved Abuela Claudia dances with young SonnyCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Island Dream

Usnavi sits seaside in the Caribbean telling a group of kids his life story. It’s all about a barrio neighborhood in New York City. The streets were full of music and every resident had a dream of a better life. We see a younger Usnavi running his small store. His young cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz) works with him. Things are breaking down and petty thieves take this and that. Benny, who works at Kevin’s car service as dispatcher, tells Usnavi to let Vanessa know he likes her. Ask her out! Usnavi is saving to buy a hurricane-ruined restaurant/bar in the Dominican Republic and return to run it. Nina, the brainy girl who made good, is visiting from Stanford University in California. It’s obvious that Benny is still in love with her. Nina tells Abuela Claudia that she feels isolated and alone at school. She is told to assert her dignity in little ways.

Benny (Corey Hawkins) advises Usnavi to ask Vanessa outBenny advises Usnavi to ask Vanessa outCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Is School Over?

Nina tells her dad she dropped out and there is no time to send in tuition money for the next semester anyway. He has spent too much on her already. He is hurt and angry. Abuela tells Usnavi that going back to the Dominican Republic won’t be as great as he thinks. Dad learns that he can still pay the tuition money and plans on doing anything to get it. We learn the origin of Usnavi’s name.. His dad saw a big U.S. Navy cruiser right after he was born so Usnavi was it!  At the beauty salon, the girls talk (and sing) about their dreams of moving uptown. Vanessa wants an apartment there but has no credit history and is rejected.

The salon girls gossip and greet returning Nina (Leslie Grace) The salon girls gossip and greet returning NinaCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

At the Pool

Vanessa at the pool wants to win the $96,000Vanessa at the pool wants to win the $96,000Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The whole neighborhood swims at the community pool and everyone dreams of winning $96,000 in the lottery. Someone does win but never turns in the ticket! The local snow cone vendor the Piragua Man (Lin-Manuel Miranda) has to keep his business alive when threatened by a fancier ice cream truck. Nina and Benny think about old times and their romance. She wonders where she really belongs. He will support her dreams no matter what.

Nina (Leslie Grace) and Benny (Corey Hawkins) decide to have a long-distance romanceNina and Benny decide to have a long-distance romanceCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Sonny’s dad (Marc Anthony), a drunk, gives the okay for Sonny to go with Usnavi to the Dominican Republic. Usnavi has saved enough money to buy the property there but now has some doubts. Sonny fixes it so Usnavi has a fiesta date with Vanessa. Dad tells Nina he has sold his business to keep her at school. She reveals that she is treated like a maid there. She doesn’t fit in! Now Benny will be out of a job.

Nina (Leslie Grace) dances with much loved dad Kevin (Jimmy Smits)Nina dances with much loved dad KevinCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Fiesta Blackout

At a big dance, Vanessa dances with other guys when Usnavi won’t dance right away. He’s jealous so dances with another girl. Tensions flare when lights go out all over the Heights! The heat the locals endure is awful. Usnavi and Vanessa argue while Benny uses the car dispatch system to help those hurt when the lights went out. Abuela Claudia passes away and all mourn her. Vanessa and Usnavi make up and it is learned that Sonny can’t go away with Usnavi because he is undocumented and needs a green card. Usnavi arranges that Vanessa can get her uptown apartment by getting the local salon owner to cosign. The salon is moving to the Bronx anyway. Finally the electricity comes back on.

At the dance, Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) splits from UsnaviAt the dance, Vanessa splits from UsnaviCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

To Go or To Stay?

Nina agrees to go back to Stanford. She and Benny will have a long-distance relationship. She leaves for school and Usnavi discovers that Abuela had the winning lottery ticket and she left a note telling him it is for him! Vanessa is stalled creatively in her fashion design until the neighborhood re-inspires her. She knows she is too late but admits she loves Usnavi and kisses him. He leaves the lottery money in a trust for Sonny but will he really leave the Heights or stay for a future life with love Vanessa? Can his little dream change?

Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) wants to design fashionsVanessa wants to design fashionsCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Songs are: “In the Heights”, “Benny’s Dispatch”, “Breathe”, “No Me Diga”, “It Won’t Be Long Now”, “96,000”, “Piragua”, “When You’re Home”, “The Club”, “Blackout”, “Paciencia y Fe”, “Alabanza”, “Carnival del Barrio”, “When the Sun Goes Down”, “Champagne”, “Finale” and “Home All Summer”.

Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina (Leslie Grace) are still in loveBenny and Nina are still in loveCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Wrapping Up

The creator of "Hamilton" and the director of Crazy Rich Asians seem ideal to tell the story of “little” people with dreams, patience and faith… all set to pulsing music and vibrant dance. You can no doubt identify with having a dream that might seem unattainable and even with that dream changing as your life progresses. Doesn’t matter what race you are or your economic status at all. We all go through the process.

Director Jon Chu with Lin-Manuel Miranda on setDirector Jon Chu with Lin-Manuel Miranda on setCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Lin-Manuel Miranda played lead character Usnavi in the Broadway production years ago and plays the neighborhood snow cone vendor here. His energy and heart seeps through in this happy celebration of community family and Latino heritage. Wild dance numbers and songs illustrate romance, the struggles to live the American dream and the heartbreaking toll those struggles can take.  Neighborhood family businesses are losing out as “gentrification” (upscale, big ticket businesses) moves in. This is a very current problem. Self-sacrifice for the good of others is a laudable theme throughout and we could use more of that right now.

Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) is mom to the neighborhoodAbuela Claudia is mom to the neighborhoodCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

All of the talented cast members are well-suited to their parts. Lead young performers are great but so is amazing Olga Merediz who played Abuela Claudia on Broadway. The last third of the movie kind of winds down after all the big, high-energy numbers but the ending is satisfying. This is a very successful film adaption of an inspiring Broadway musical and that doesn’t happen very often.We award a full five stars.

In the Heights Movie Rating: 5

In the Heights Movie Review - Energetic and TimelyCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

See In the Heights in theaters and on HBO Max starting June 10th