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In The Heights: Dreams, Family, and Community

by Neil Bui

In The Heights finds new life as a film after achieving success on Broadway with 4 Tony Awards. Dreams, family, and community are at the heart of this production and will remind any with a sueñito (little dream) that they are powerful, not powerless.

The film reunites the stage musical’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music and lyrics, and Quiara Alegría Hudes who wrote the book, as the two became producers for this adaptation. From the appreciation (and many plays on loop) I have for the Original Broadway Cast Recording, I can tell that these two have succeeded in bringing the essence of the musical about a New York City bodega owner to this film production.

Taking the role of the director is Jon M. Chu, best known for directing 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, and it’s with this film that I feel like Professor X recognizing Chu’s latent mutant abilities. Under Chu’s direction, the setting of Washington Heights is given a breath of life that electrifies its stories and transforms itself into its own vibrant world akin to what had happened in Crazy Rich Asians to Singapore.

Preview the first 8 minutes of In The Heights on YouTube:

The lead character Usnavi is played by Anthony Ramos who absolutely kills it. Ramos’ character has grown up in the barrio (neighborhood) of Washington Heights and has dreams of returning to the Dominician Republican, his parents’ home before arriving in America. His love interest, Vanessa played by Melissa Barrera, has similar dreams as she wants to move to an apartment downtown.

Usnavi and Vanessa share this desire to get out of the neighborhood, but while Vanessa is only a bus ride away, Usnavi’s dreams would take him to another country. Their character arcs carry themes about dreams and where home is.

Nina Rosario is played by Leslie Grace and is the girl who made it out as she attends Stanford University. But the internal burdens she faces cause her to decide to drop out while everyone in the neighborhood believes she’s only back for summer vacation. Benny, played by Corey Hawkins, is in love with Nina and works for her father as a dispatcher for his taxi cab service.

LESLIE GRACE as Nina Rosario and COREY HAWKINS as Benny in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “IN THE HEIGHTS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Nina’s troubles are akin to imposter syndrome, as she feels she can’t quite fit in with her peers in school as she has trouble finding people who look like her, which many of us may go through as we dare to venture into new fields and dream of more for ourselves. Benny’s troubles come from being dismissed by Nina’s father but during the film’s most troubling times, Benny’s reliability shines through as he plays a pivotal role.

Usnavi’s younger cousin Sonny played by Gregory Diaz IV also left a memorable impact on me as the youngest character in the cast and neighborhood who is full of potential as he is both intellectual, considerate, and aware of social issues.

There’s a handful of other characters that play important roles in In The Heights and the film does a great job of handling all of these characters in a way that allows everyone to be distinct and celebrated by the film’s end.

STEPHANIE BEATRIZ as Carla, OLGA MEREDIZ as Abuela Claudia, DASCHA POLANCO as Cuca, MELISSA BARRERA as Vanessa, JIMMY SMITS as Kevin Rosario and DAPHNE RUBIN-VEGA as Daniela in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “IN THE HEIGHTS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Catch the film in theaters and on HBO Max starting on June 10, 2021. Don’t just take my word for how great this film is, some familiar faces call it the summer event of this year:

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