In The Heights (2021)

A cinematic event of hot authentic latin cultural rejoice, passion, musical craftsmanship & dexterity, A/V expressionism, vital dreamer/immigrant story theme exposition, starmaking performances, community, & ethereal joyous energy lighting every frame on-fire. 9.2/10.

Plot Synopsis: In Washington Heights, N.Y., the scent of warm coffee hangs in the air just outside of the 181st St. subway stop, where a kaleidoscope of dreams rallies a vibrant and tight-knit community. At the intersection of it all is a likable and magnetic bodega owner who hopes, imagines and sings about a better life.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

The Musical Experience

Even Lifelong Music-Lovers Often Hate The Cheesy Dances, Melodramatic Schmaltz, Third-Grade Set-Design, & Impracticality Of Sung Conversations – Except If Done Right

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros & 5000 Broadway Productions

We’ll be the first to admit: we usually HATE musicals. The cheesy dance-numbers, melodramatic schmaltz, impracticality of normal conversations erupting into singalongs, and set-designs looking like they were done for a third-grade play normally send us running from any and all entries in the genre. As musicians and lifelong music-lovers, it pains us to see the public reverberate many of our existential biases against the genre – at least in modern times that have rarely seen masterpieces in the last 70+ years from Golden-Age Hollywood’s Singin’ In The Rain, The Wizard Of Oz, Westside Story, Sound Of Music, etc. Heck, quite arguably the worst film of the entire 2010’s was a musical by the name of Cats to dramatically-emphasize [with feline horror/masochism] our hypothesis. However, we do properly-appreciate musicals done right – as we did back in the jazzy Hollywood-panegyric of twinkling seas of lights in twinkle-town and cosmic atmospheric romanticism we crowned as the best film of 2016: La La Land, while keeping an eye on theatre-star and serial composer Lin-Manuel Miranda who was making noise on Broadway. Here, one of his best stage plays is given a cinematization – and it’s the best entry since Stone & Gosling’s: amongst the best this genre has seen in a long, long time. A cinematic event of pure Latinx cultural rejoice and the rhythms, storytelling, & dreamer exposition core to the immigrant experience and heart of America, ITH is one of the best musicals of the 21st-century – theatre delivered into your home personalizing/grounding its genre in NYC everyday familiarities, a paean to the poor/working-class, beautiful cinematography, vibrance, authenticity, star-making performances, and unforgettable songs bursting with charisma, originality, genre-blending dexterity, and ethereal joy lighting the screen on-fire – despite being overlong with too many musical numbers, no afrolatino representation, and missing arc-closures.

Dijo Nuestro Cuento

A Cultural Experience Like Nothing Before: No Blockbuster Or Franchiseisms; A Love-Letter To Hispanosphere By Art, Music, & Story: Cuba, Mexico, D.R., España, P. Rico

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros & 5000 Broadway Productions

In The Heights is one of the best films of 2021 – and an experience to never be forgotten. The film is foremost [unapologetically] a cultural experience the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Even 2018’s Black Panther, amazing as it was as a fluid afrofuturistic CBM of groundbreaking representation, pales in comparison on the braggadocio of being able to call itself a pure golden hymn/paean to its people and heritage without the limitations of contextualized blockbuster action and mega franchise-isms. As its characters sing, ‘tell our story’ is the core, driving raison-d’être of In The Heights – and the majesty with which it paints the hispanosphere from Cuba to Mexico to España to Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico and everything in-between is an alabanza the world needs to see. Every aspect of the culture can be found on-screen with authenticity and comprehensiveness you will simply never find anywhere else, the power of cinema on-display to bring them all together across mediums in one singular project absolutely critical in a place as deprived, appropriative, and desolate as the 2020’s United States Of America. Gazpacho y paella take the place of Taco Bell, Julio Iglèsias the pop-songs of Pitbull, cuentas of ancestral conquistadores and dictators the fables of plastic 4th grade history books, Picasso & Dalí over Nacho Libre reruns, real accents and linguistic dialection over performative children’s language classes forgotten the second they graduate junior-high, & salsa and merengue/carnaval the weak gym-workout dance classes of TV-telethons.

L’Historia De Los Immigrantes

Sociopolitical, Gentrification, Financial, & Dreamer Exposition Through A Complex And IQ-Heavy Screenplay For A Musical – The Land Of Immigrants & People W. Dream

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros & 5000 Broadway Productions

The film is a love-letter to one of the most important yet perplexingly-underrepresented groups in the modern landscape of moviemaking – disproportionate to the number of citizens of descent here in the U.S.A. and globally beyond that have deserved a movie like this for generations past-due. One of the great things about the 21st century has been the [millennial/Gen. X-fueled] bloom of cultural movies: a feast where once we had famine, finally doing proud to the people of pigmentation who comprise and vibrantly-embroider the fabric of the land-of-immigrants/possibilities – one that houses the capital of the movie-universe whose billions of dollars were unfairly locked away from the ability to paint the ultimate experience of culture [storytelling, music, & art] foundational over history. In The Heights is a sweeping love-letter to the immigrant story, complex and advanced themes prismatized through a lens of ‘paciencia y fé’. Sociopolitical, gentrification, financial, & dreamer exposition are ideas proficiently analyzed through the film’s intelligent and emotive screenplay it’s shocking plays background to a musical often deprived of anything besides song-and-dance – how our ancestors and everyone in this country except Native Americans came here with a dream: to escape persecution, tyranny, and hardship to make a better life for themselves, their family, and future generations.

Paciencia Y Fé

That Dream’s Under Attack & Increasingly Intangible For The 99%ers – A Retrospective Paean To The Proletariat, Grind-And-Hustle, And Not-Always-Sparkly Diamond Of El Sueñitos Divergent Between People

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros & 5000 Broadway Productions

That dream is under attack and becoming increasingly-reserved for only the privileged in the modern landscape. A resurgence of fashionable MAGA-fueled discrimination, performative woke activism of fake superficial persiflage by billion-dollar corporations using it for clickbait-views at the expense of real activism, political anti-DACA legislation, and insatiable greed/avarice by institutions from colleges to landlords jacking up prices are making this proclaimedly-religious, benevolent nation more-and-more intangible & unaffordable for the 99%ers. In The Heights is a retrospective paean to the people outside of corporate boardrooms: the proletariat and average-joes who keep this country running, echoing last year’s Best Picture Academy Award-winner Nomadland – of which there are many similarities including identity themes, romanticization of the grind-and-hustle of workers, and psychoanalysis of America from past, present, and future perspectives. Here, 180 from Fern’s RV, it’s through a majestic landscape of city-borough/projects life in a summertime-NYC – one it paints two other major topics of importance to immigrants establishing home-away-from-home in: community and false-promises. The film authentically shows the hardships our parents and immigrants across generations went through and that dreams are not always sparkly, idyllic diamonds – for some, a bittersweet-over-happy ending of sacrifices and back-breaking finger-to-the-bone work just to put food on the table and survive, far from the clichéd and vigorously-false promise of ‘if you work hard, mind the law, learn our language, and be a good neighbor, you will succeed in America’.

Los Desempeños Y Caracterizatión

A Phenomenal Cast Of Star-Making New Performances Archetyping Many Themes – Led By Ramos’ Old-World Impassioned Grit & Grace’s Falsetto-Impeccable Eponymy

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros & 5000 Broadway Productions

El sueñitos look vastly-different between people of all races, genders, orientations, and demographics: something ITH understands and captures by the grace of its fantastic characterization/performances. Anthony Ramos and Leslie Grace steal the show – two breakout, star-making performances for the ages in the genre. Ramos’ Usnavi engages you and grips your attention from the opening scene: the presence, masculine charm, and impassioned grit of moviestars of yesteryear, bolstered by smart storytelling POV-shifts like he’s talking to you directly in the audience telling the story of his life torn between his native and grown-up homelands as he does the time-subversive kids on the beachside cabaña. Leslie Grace is just as charismatic and bold/vibrant as the falsetto-impeccable golden child of the neighborhood, acted with grace, dynamism, soul, and precision rarely found in modern moviemaking as she hits her cues perfectly. Her character is a bit vexingly-written and impractical; I went to Harvard and medical school: the first one in my family’s history and neighborhood to ever go to either, and I can tell you firsthand no one treated me like a god every time I walked down the street as they do Nina in every scene of the movie. Though the theme is an important one in the pressure, expectations, and financials of college (especially in immigrant contexts), she comes across as a ~Mary-Sueish superiority-overcompensation – made unlikable as a character by the callous disregard for her father’s [like many immigrant parents’] sacrifices to make her dreams possible so she go to the college he never could… making completely nonsensical excuses like there ‘being no community at college’ when ~everyone is new freshman year and there are countless language and cultural clubs at every university (again, I know; I was in multiple). However, that’s the screenwriters’ problem, not Leslie Grace’s.

La Comunidad

ITH Paints With A Genre-Diverse Palette Of Romance, Drama, Comedy, & Heavy Emotion Community: Of Typified Critical Importance & Family-Away-From For World Minorities

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros & 5000 Broadway Productions

The rest of the cast is just as strong – from Barrera’s tough-as-nails aspirational fashion designer Vanessa to Corey Hawkins’ driven workaholic future-businessman Benny to Manuel-Miranda’s clever directorial cameo as the piragüero to Gregory Diaz IV’s undocumented fighting-underdog Sonny de la vega to the sweet neighborhood-abuela by Olga Merediz. In The Heights paints with a genre-diverse palette of romance, comedy, drama, action, and heavy emotion a community you wish you were a part of: one that painstakingly highlights the importance of it as an extended-family for minorities not always blessed with ones themselves, leaning on each other in both happy and sad times. Now, all of these impressive and thematically-bold/complex positives are just a bonus to the main-attraction its genre has lived-and-died-by [more so the latter by the status of the comparatively-dying medium of theatre today]: the music, art, and life. In The Heights succeeds primarily by its music and the numbers bringing them to-screen – amongst the best the 21st-century and even history of the genre has ever seen. A genre landscape as diverse as any musical ever made, the film mixes rap, bubblegum-pop, electronica, R&B, acoustic, funk, and [of course] latin musical genres like salsa, bachata, urbano, reggaeton, boogaloo, and merengue into an impossibly seamless blend of latin flavor as a whole by pure auricular witchcraft. They’re brought to life by an instrumental collection just as comprehensive and authentic: low in-the-pocket bass guitar-rhythms, record-scratches, tambourine-rattles, synthy plucks, acapella harmonies, boom-bap drums, lascivious trumpets, passionate piano-chords, soaring strings, etc.

La Musica

Rap, Pop, Urbano, Bachata, Merengue, Electronica, Salsa, R&B, Acoustic, Funk, & Reggaeton Impossibly Mixed Turn Everyday Life Into Charisma-Bursting Songs – Pure Musical Witchcraft Of LMM Brilliance

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros & 5000 Broadway Productions

The vocals might just be the most impressive part by a multi-threat cast somehow just as proficient as songbirds as they are as actors and actresses as they’re tasked with the herculean labor of singing over half of the film, yet still succeed. The soundscape owes its masterpiece achievement to its patriarch: a Lin-Manuel Miranda so in-tune and deftly-knowledgeable in his craft [+ helped by cinema’s gift of allowing artists to deliver perfect execution every time beyond theatrical live performance errors or multi-takes], he’s able to switch between genres, feels, tempos, keys, and aesthetics even within the same song and even juggle four-plus different singers harmonizing. LMM is able conjure, fun catchy singalong songs from even the most basic and mundane everyday life situations – from opening up a convenience store to going to the pool on a hot summer day, imbuing every note with hot latin cultural fire and his people’s ethereal joyous energy/joie-de-vivre. The cinematography, set pieces, and choreography are synergistically out-of-this-world as well: finding just as much beauty in normalcy and city-life, while echoing its music’s hymns to its cultural vibrance in visual tributes. The film extols/lionizes the borough and brings Nueva York to life with sunlight-blasted, color-popped, extravagantly-set design graffiti street-energized moxie that makes you want to move there tomorrow. This is all in the context of the rococo ornamentalism and colors centralidad to latin cultures – even in the atmospherics epitomized by the red-orange hued night at the club that feels like an ocular trip to Mexico. Finally, the dance choreography is breathtaking: moving crowds like clockwork in avant-garde geometric patterns, revolutions, and compositions that wow the eyes and feel like a hand-stitched cloth your bisabuela knitted centuries ago.

La Cinematografía Y Escenografía

An Ocular Hymn To Its Culture’s Vibrance & City-Life: Graffiti Street-Energized Moxie & NYC Summertime Days Contextualized With Pure Latin Rococo Ornamentalism & Colors

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros & 5000 Broadway Productions

There are flaws in In The Heights. For one, there are way too many songs. There are seventeen songs in the two-and-a-half hour movie; the film begins with a near-10 minute song and the total runtime of just music takes up almost 1.5 hours… over half of the entire film. That statistic doesn’t even seem accurate-enough by how it feels like barely 1-2 minutes ever go by without the characters turning a normal conversation into a song – the exemplification of why most people, even lifelong music-lovers and past musicians like myself, avoid the genre like the plague. The preponderance of unnecessary cornucopian songs we’re inundated with is the crux of another major flaw: the film is far too long; not even diehard musical fans are going into its films expecting it to be as long as Avengers: Endgame or Oscar-caliber drama odysseys far more advanced than this. The musical numbers are so damn good, this flaw is ~easily-forgiven from a level-headed perspective – but not everyone is as kind as us. The oversight in combination with how at least 5-7 songs are superfluous and could’ve been easily cut-out without hampering the film or its major numbers is likely a major reason [along with the COVID-19 pandemic and a few aforementioned woke-isms the public has repeatedly-voiced opposition to] why it tragically bombed at the box-office and could lose $150M+ even when it’s a great film and amazing cultural experience.

Algunos Defectos

No Afro-Latino Representation, Missing Arc-Closures To Characters We Grow To Love, & Far Too Many Songs At Over Half The Long 2.5 Hour IW/Endgame Runtime

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros & 5000 Broadway Productions

Finally, one missed group and arc-closure. There’s little-to-no representation for afro-latino groups – perplexingly, given the film had if anything 30+ minutes of extra [unnecessary] screentime and gave every other hispanosphere group plenty of representation. The film also never explains what happens to its meticulously-developed storylines like Nina and Benny’s, Sonny’s, and Usnavi’s/Vanessa’s [besides the fact that they stayed in WH, got married, and had a child] – again, bizarre and a bad oversight by how much extra time it had and how much time it spent building up these trajectories and characters we grew to love, only to leave us guessing and having to write our own conclusions to. These, of course, pale in comparison to the film’s all-time-great accomplishents – one whose atmospheric joe-de-vivre and cultural authenticity made me leave the theater with a huge smile on my face and renewed appreciation, understanding, and awe for latin cultures. A cinematic event of pure Latinx cultural rejoice and the rhythms, storytelling, & dreamer exposition core to the immigrant experience and heart of America, ITH is one of the best musicals of the 21st-century – theatre delivered into your home personalizing/grounding its genre in NYC everyday familiarities, a paean to the poor/working-class, beautiful cinematography, vibrance, authenticity, star-making performances, and unforgettable songs bursting with charisma, originality, genre-blending dexterity, and ethereal joy lighting the screen on-fire – despite being overlong with too many musical numbers, no afrolatino representation, and missing arc-closures.

Official CLC Score: 9.2/10