In The Heights

2 July 2021 / by Emma Raghubir
In The Heights
This visually enrapturing, yet shallow film about a New York community forgets it’s community in the background

Jon M. Chu’s ‘In The Heights’, based on the 2008 Broadway musical , smoothly takes the audience into the essence and dynamics of the complex community that is Washington Heights, New York. Usnavi, local bodega owner, dreams and plans to return to the homeland of his parents in the Dominican Republic to rebuild their old business. We follow him as he forms his decision, torn between leaving his community and most notably, Vanessa, who is a local nail salon technician and an aspiring fashion designer he is smitten with. We also follow the story of Nina, a former student at Stanford, who has returned without telling her community she has left the university. As she returns, her former boyfriend, Benny, piques her interest as they work towards understanding each other while Nina tries to understand herself. 

The film first follows local bodega owner Usnavi, on his morning commute to work where the interactions experienced between his apartment to the shop vary from giving an endearing hug to Abuela Claudia to chasing a ‘street rat’ to engaging in a friendly interaction with Mr. Piragua immediately immerses the audience into the sense of community and variety of the neighborhood. Various members of the neighborhood start their day, where we are shown just as there is so much variety placed within the community there is one common ground, which is that everyone has a dream, no matter how big or small and they are working hard to achieve it. 

Each scene is a powerful pop of colour, bursting from each edge of the screen as you can’t help but be captured by each second and shot. The emotion transferred from each shot alone is enough to make the audience feel hopeless, triumphant as well as hot from the Height’s heat, each song adding a multitude of layers to the meaning, and perfectly nestling itself nicely in the progression of the story while providing a burst of serotonin and groove. Due to the amazing direction and acting of the film, each emotion, and individual struggle of each character is felt, each gain and loss is taken on by the audience. As the movie progresses conflicts become more and more tense as the days count down to the blackout, each revealing the pain and sacrifice everyone had to do for their dreams. The film is movie is visually pleasing as well as thought provoking on prevalent topics that remain sheltered such as immigration, discrimination and working towards a dream despite the odds being against ones favour. This makes  ‘In The Heights’ an amazing movie night film to watch. 

That being said, I found that the depth of the relationships between the characters to be unfulfilling, taking away some of the depth and tone of the storyline. I felt as though the story focused on their internal feelings, shying away from exploring the relationships such as Nina and Benny, who had limited interaction and backstory. The case is the same for Usnavi and Vanessa. Although the story is mainly framed around personal growth, which is valuable, it is in doing that, that it creates less of an emotional connection between characters who play a significant role in the community.