Review: ‘In the Heights’

John M. Chu and Lin-Manuel Miranda are having a carnival — and we are all invited.

From Singin the Rain to A Star Is Born, musicals are unapologetically indulgent and pander to our inner most voices, yearning to burst out into song. It evokes the emotion inside us and through the artistic assemblage of the director and songwriter, audiences find their voices through the characters.

In The Heights, directed by John M. Chu and written by Hamilton-fame Lin Manual Miranda, is this very artistic assemblage – with a universal message about chasing dreams and being proud of your heritage.

Anthony Ramos plays Usnavi, whose dream is to go back to his home in the Dominican Republic and take over his dad’s bodega. He is lusting after Vanessa (played by Melissa Barrera) whose own dream is to open a dress shop of her own. Nina (Leslie Grace) is a top student at Stanford University, who is having trouble adjusting at her new school and lands herself in big trouble which brings her a step closer to Benny (Corey Hawkins). In the midst of everyone’s pursuit, we see the characters negotiate love, sacrifice and poverty, but prevail by staying united.

In The Heights’ premise speaks to the heart of anyone in pursuit of following a dream with no intention of giving up despite the odds. It may seem sweet and simple on surface but the film is heightened by Chu’s direction and each character’s unfaltering energy exhibited through song, dance and expression of voice through earnest lyrics.

Ramos’ portrayal of Usnavi for instance inspires us to be a better version of ourselves and live each moment both in gratitude but unwavering in pursuit for a higher purpose. Each characters’ struggles will resonate with someone in the audience because their dreams are simple dreams but the ambition fuelling those dreams are what injects the story with authenticity and realistic empathy.

This love letter to Latinx New Yorkers, adapted for the silver screen, is a toe-tapping, body-popping, hip-swaying musical that reminds us it’s okay to embrace our culture as we chase our ‘sueñitos’.

In fact, it’s better that we sing and dance about it along the way — telling the world we are not invisible,” as Abuela Claudia muses.

Watch the official trailer here:

In the Heights is in UK cinemas now.