Lin Manuel Miranda's 'In The Heights' soars in both filmmaking and representation


By Evelyn Heis, Film & TV Columnist

Based on the book by Quiara Alegria Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s renowned Broadway musical of the same name, film adaptation In the Heights (2021) hit the big screen with a bang this June, earning $11.5 million on its opening weekend.

In the Heights is no ordinary musical; from its rich and vibrant colours, exuberant musical numbers and choreographed dance scenes that are buzzing with energy, to the touching, important message it carries, this musical is truly exceptional.

Courtesy of IMDB

Set in Washington Heights, a close-knit neighbourhood in Manhattan, the story follows Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a bodega owner whose ‘sueñito’ (little dream) is to open up a chiringuito in the Dominican Republic and pay homage to his late parents who migrated from there. Going about his day in the bodega, he introduces his closest friends and likeable neighbours, starting with Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), the neighbourhood’s matriarchal figure who looks after Usnavi and Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), Usnavi’s teenage cousin who works alongside him in the bodega; Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), the owner of a taxi company and father of Nina (Leslie Grace), the neighbourhood’s star-student who is attending Stanford University; Benny (Corey Hawkins), Usnavi’s best-friend and Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), a beauty-salon worker whom Usnavi is madly in love with.

Courtesy of IMDB

The story takes place over the course of three days, in between a sweltering heat wave, focusing on the ‘sueñitos’ of those in the neighbourhood and their high-spirited determination to fulfil them. In the Heights highlights the American Dream that is embedded in the hearts of many first-generation immigrants. All the characters in Washington Heights strive for a better life, either for themselves or for their family, and this zealous drive is extremely empowering and heart-warming to see.

What I loved most about this musical was its relatability: the scorching heat, the close and overprotective community that is almost like a family and the identity struggles as a person of colour

Accompanied with phenomenal cinematography and choreographed numbers, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics are that of a genius: fast, clever, and catchy. In the Heights has an ardent Latin rhythm that is synthesised with Miranda’s characteristic hip-hop and rap style, previously seen in Hamilton (2020), resulting in an innovative and exhilarating musical experience.

Miranda’s outstanding songs convey the energetic, Latin flair that is characteristic of the cultural melting pot that is Washington Heights, and this talented soundtrack, alongside the exceptional cast, provides great Latinx representation.

Courtesy of IMDB

For first generation immigrants, like myself, this film makes you feel seen, heard, and understood. I feel that a huge part of my identity and culture was visible in this musical, and this display of accurate representations on the big screen was really moving.

What I loved most about this musical was its relatability: the scorching heat, the close and overprotective community that is almost like a family and the identity struggles as a person of colour, are things that are depicted in this musical and also that I am familiar with. Even the characters that are portrayed reminded me of people back at home, truly because Hudes and Miranda encapsulate the essence of the real people that we encounter in the barrio every day, extremely well.

Amidst the fantastical musical scenes, In the Heights deals with the struggles for Latinxs, in a light-hearted and empowering way that not only makes you want to get up and dance, but also follow your own ‘sueñito’. This electrifying musical is a must-see this Summer!

Featured Image: IMDB

Do you think In The Heights was worth the hype?


Evelyn Heis

Columnist for the Film&Tv section of the Epigram.