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MMH REVIEW I In the Heights: A Celebration of Latinx - American Culture

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Oh. My. GOODNESS! Lin-Manuel Miranda does it again. In the Heights is stunning, vibrant, and downright near-perfection. Now, that’s a really high praise… but Rotten Tomatoes agrees with its tomatometer holding at 97%. This movie is truly a celebration of culture and community.

Broadway is back! I mean both in this film, but also for reals. Broadway shows return in September. Check out Lin-Manuel Miranda on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon welcome back Broadway!

Having Lin-Manuel Miranda trail-blaze by bringing not just creative arts and theatre arts culture as part of everyday household culture, he is throwing the doors open for BIPOC narratives to be exemplified in these spaces, where they historically have not been seen. As we know, Miranda doesn’t do something if it doesn’t uplift others with him. In the Heights, the story, by Quiara Alegria Hudes, celebrates the Afro-Carribean roots and culture of a community of people that truly does exist in the barrio of Washington Heights in NYC. But the film pays homage to its original broadway show, cast, and to musical theater culture, all-while bringing in Jon M. Chu, of Crazy Rich Asians, to direct. This dynamic trio is a testament to working together to uplift each other and our stories - and in the process made the feel-good film of the year.

So here’s my top five things that makes this film work:

1. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a musical genius.

Let’s remember that In the Heights is a precursor to Hamilton. This film exemplifies that his lyric, rhythm, and instrumental understanding is untouchable. Then add his Latinx roots and influences to make this masterpiece. This show didn’t get enough praise because it was pinned as not for the White-American general audience. It’s Oscar-worthy.

2. Abuela Claudia is life.

Not only did Olga Merediz originate the role on Broadway, she has been carrying this role for over 10 years and now has brought it to the big screen. She also gets the ‘dream ballet’ scene that highlights her role as the matriarch of the neighborhood with her solo, “Paciencia y Fe”.

3. The cameos.

Miranda and Christopher Jackson’s scenes are just corny enough that it works. Alongside Miranda’s parents, original In the Heights cast members, and Marc Anthony all make cameos.

4. Minimal Translation.

Spanish and Spanglish are full-throttle and it’s an honor to Spanish culture. If anything, I probably learned more Spanish watching this movie than I did using Duolingo. Not having translations forces the audience to utilize other tools… like empathy to understand the story. Just like they sang, LISTEN TO OUR STORIES!

5. Jon M. Chu’s Directing.

Chu knows how to do over-the-top without it being tacky or tasteless. He knows how to shoot those full ensemble numbers that are so iconic. His DP and the art department need a round of applause!

My praise is going to the dancers. Similar to A Chorus Line, this film highlights those who pull everything together and makes the whole show possible. Slightly biased as a fellow dancer, but in all seriousness, this movie would have been flat without the crew of well over 100+ dancers. We often think that dance is frivolous and an afterthought in musical theater and broadway shows in comparison to vocals and acting. Unless the film is a ‘dance flick’, like Center Stage, or hires a dancer/choreographer to spearhead, like Jerome Robbins for West Side Story or any Bob Fosse films like Sweet Charity and All That Jazz, dance definitely doesn’t get any serious attention.

There was the Bomba, Merengue, Salsa, Bachata, Hip Hop, Pop and Lock, Modern, Contemporary, and ballet. Yes, I peeped the ballet dancers doing barre work while at the pool! There wasn’t a single scene that didn’t celebrate the Afro-Caribbean dance cultural roots and that dance is for every body and everybody.

I also found it so important to see men dance. They were sweaty, sexy, and suave. Muy caliente! I think “The Club”, which is a salsa dance number, is one of the best film dance numbers I’ve ever seen. Overall, this film broke the stereotype trope that men don’t dance or that it’s emasculating. However, this number highlighted strong partnering by giving our lead female, Vanessa, a ‘larger’ man as her partner, and the camera commanded his attention. This definitely cemented that latin men know how to shake their hips! The whole number was mesmerizing.

I cannot go without mentioning that Daniela, the lovable hair and nail salon owner, is played by the incredible Daphne Rubin-Vega. You may know her better as the originator of Mimi in the hit broadway, RENT. It took me a second to recognize who she was, but her voice is iconic. Rubin-Vega was tasked with the responsibility to do what she does best… bring the community together. In her main number, “Carnaval Del Barrio”, she does just that. This number was solely the core ensemble with the leads and it exemplifies the camaraderie of the cast. It’s that scene where everyone breaks character because they are all having too much fun celebrating who they are. So if you’re missing Broadway, head uptown. Washington Heights is waiting for you.

This pandemic has gotten me sick with movie theater fever. In the Heights was absolutely the best choice to welcome me back. If you feel comfortable enough to do so, I highly recommend doing the same. Stay through the credits. You’re welcome.

In the Heights is now available in theaters and on HBOMax. Here’s the first 7 minutes.


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