In the Heights (2021) – Movie Review

I know there’s supposed to be a certain
degree of fantasy to musicals, but somehow
I doubt that many people would be dancing
around in jeans when its 102 degrees out.
Hey everybody, welcome to Mainely Movies.
Today I’m gonna be talking about the 2021
musical: In the Heights.
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In the Heights stars Anthony Ramos, Leslie
Grace, and Melissa Barrera and was directed
by Jon M. Chu.
Based on the stage musical of the same name,
it tells the story of bodega-owner, Usnavi,
played by Anthony Ramos, as he and his fellow
Washington Heights neighbors work towards
their dreams.
To preface this, I want to say something to
give you some insight into where I’m coming
from with this review because I think context
can be important when applying a review to
your own thoughts and mindset.
I am not a musical person – at least not live-action
I think animated musicals are a

little more
reasonable, but I have always had a really
tough time getting into live-action musicals.
It’s not like I hate them or anything, in
fact, there are a few that I really really
enjoy, but there’s something about the style
and having people randomly break out into
song that I always struggle with.
So, I wanted to mention that right from the
start, because I think there are things that
I bring up in this review that could be interpreted
differently and maybe more positively by somebody
who really likes musicals.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is this
isn’t an anti-musical review, even though
I don’t really tend to like musicals.
Okay, so with that context in mind, it probably
doesn’t come as much of a surprise that
I wasn’t super excited for this movie.
I never saw the stage play that this is based
on, but I have watched the recorded performance
of Hamilton, so between that and the trailers,
I had an idea of the general style of this
one coming in.
And certainly from a stylistic perspective,
this movie was exactly what I anticipated
it being; a big, exuberant, summery production.
The music here features Lin-Manuel Miranda’s
trademark rapid, rappy conversational style
and I think for the most part that worked
really well.
It certainly fit into a modern city setting
a little more logically than with the founding
And since this is a film, there was a lot
more that could be done creatively with regards
to the editing and sound design.
For instance, right off the bat, there’s
a really cool use of a hose spraying water
that acts as percussion leading into the first
musical number.
Of course, by being a film rather than a stage
production, there’s this odd disconnect
between the performers and the music.
It’s visibly noticeable at times that they’re
lip-syncing to their own music, and obviously
it makes sense with such a big production
and sometimes some very large sets, but it
creates this extra layer of separation that,
for me; as somebody who already struggles
with the disconnect of musicals, pulls me
out of the story trying to be told.
That said, I did like the music here as well
as most of the musical sequences.
None of the songs really stood out and stuck
with me on first watch (like many of the Hamilton
songs did), but after relistening to the soundtrack,
they’ve kind of separated into their own
distinct things.
And I have to say, I was impressed by some
of the musical sequences here.
There was a good deal of variety to the dances
and choreography and some sequences even mixed
in some unexpected fantasy elements.
I’m not sure if it was my favorite song,
but probably the most impressive sequence
was 96,000 with all of its pool choreography.
Because I’m not usually too enthralled by
the music of musicals, I have a tendency to
really focus in on the characters and story
and the thematic glue that holds everything
And I was really pleasantly surprised by that
thematic core here; it was easily one of the
strongest elements of this film.
It tackles a lot of ideas and focuses on a
lot of characters.
I would say that the main character is Usnavi
and the story’s framing device certainly
helps solidify that, but the movie broadens
its focus pretty quickly, so it’s not really
a story about an individual, but rather a
community and the various individuals within
that community.
And there’s a lot of things going on in
this story related to that idea.
Everybody within that community has some sort
of a dream or sueñito.
For Usnavi, it’s to move back to the Dominican
For other characters it ranges from reaching
their career goals to providing a better life
for their kids to making a difference in the
And I think this movie explores the idea of
these personal goals and dreams in a really
interesting way because it shows that they
aren’t static.
People’s dreams can change and evolve over
time, sometimes you need the help of others
to achieve those dreams, while other times
that help could actually be an unintentional
Everybody has their own sueñito, but they
don’t necessarily all perfectly align with
each others’.
Even beyond the various individual sueñito
plots, I think this movie dives into some
really interesting and important themes regarding
Throughout this film, we really focus on seven
characters who are all interconnected.
But this movie’s really about a neighborhood
– right at the beginning, Usnavi narrates
that this is a story about a block that was
And in large part, that is what this story’s
about – there’s definitely a lot of reference
to gentrification.
And this isn’t just a neighborhood of strangers
– these people are family, even if they aren’t
actually related to each other.
Even though the community is made up of immigrants
from all over (as highlighted by the different
flags in the Carnaval del Barrio sequence),
they’re still part of this communal neighborhood
melting pot culture.
Now obviously I can’t speak to this cultural
representation on any sort of personal level,
so I certainly direct you to some of my LatinX
colleagues for more insight into that aspect,
but I can at least say that I really appreciated
seeing this culture, community, neighborhood
highlighted in a mainstream movie like this.
This exploration of and focus on community
was really great from a thematic standpoint,
but I don’t think it was something that
was executed particularly well from a story
standpoint here.
By focusing on so many characters and their
individual specific issues, the story ends
up feeling spread a bit thin, even though
the movie’s almost two and a half hours
It’s one of those things where I completely
understand why it was done, but I do think
that focusing in on fewer characters would
have made the story feel more robust and complete.
Because, as it stands, we end up with a lot
of plot threads that never really get resolved.
Usnavi is the only character that we truly
follow through to the end (which makes sense
because he’s technically the main character),
but it made things somehow feel unfulfilling.
And speaking of the ending, that thing gets
dragged out.
Maybe people who are more invested in the
story than I was won’t be bothered by it,
but it felt like there were three or four
natural endings that just had another ending
tacked onto them.
So, I went into this movie with no real excitement
or expectations and came out thinking it was
In spite of my general feelings on musicals,
I didn’t dislike this, but I also didn’t
think it was that great either.
It was just fine, but it didn’t do anything
for me or resonate with me in any way.
Now, I realize I’m not the target audience
Obviously I’m not LatinX and I do want to
make a point that this isn’t a movie only
for those culturally represented in the film;
I think it has much a much broader reach than
that, but I also think it will resonate much
more strongly with those who can find that
cultural connection.
But, beyond that, I think this is a movie
for people who have that sense of close-knit
community that living in a city can bring.
And obviously, being a fan of musicals, will
likely affect how the film resonates with
you too.
I was interested in the story and themes and
was rooting for the characters, but personally
I felt nothing from this film.
However, I think that probably says more about
me than it does the movie because I know a
lot of people are having some really emotional
responses to the film.
So, I think this is one of those cases where
if it resonates with you, you’re going to
really love it and if it doesn’t, it’s
just going to be another movie.
Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons.
Pro number one probably isn’t much of a
surprise considering the genre, but it’s
gotta be the music and musical numbers.
Like I mentioned before, I’m not the biggest
fan of musicals and characters randomly breaking
out into song in a live-action movie is always
a little silly to me, but that’s obviously
what this film is and I think it does a pretty
good job with it.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s fast, conversational
rapping song style is present here again and
I think it works really well with this community-based
story… and certainly makes more sense than
having the founding father’s rapping.
I’ll admit that on this first watch, only
a few of the songs really stood out to me
in the moment, but I have listened to the
soundtrack a couple times now and the songs
have started to distinguish themselves from
one another a bit more now.
The second pro has to be the themes.
So, I thought that the story itself and its
execution had some issues, but I really liked
everything that was at its core.
It kind of had these two interconnected levels.
There was the individual level that was really
focused on the idea of dreams – the sueñitos.
And I thought it was great how it showed how
everybody had their own unique dreams and
goals and how those dreams could evolve.
On top of that, the movie also had more communal-level
It wasn’t just about one person’s sueñito,
it was about a bunch of sueñitos.
It was about a neighborhood and a community,
it was about immigrants, it was about gentrification,
it was about not only trying to retain culture,
but to celebrate it.
And from those thematic standpoints, I think
this movie really succeeded.
On the con side, the biggest issue was how
dragged out this movie felt.
And I think there were two separate things
that contributed to this – the pacing and
the ending.
The pacing was the lesser of the two contributors,
but there were several sequences throughout
the movie (and not just the musical sequences)
that felt overlong for what they were actually
contributing to the story.
This movie was a tad long – almost two and
a half hours – and I certainly felt the length,
but again, musicals aren’t really my thing
so I’m sure that contributed a bit.
But, where I really noticed it the most was
the ending… or endings.
This is one of those films that feels like
it reaches a natural conclusion three or four
different times… and then just keeps going
a little bit more.
Probably not as big of a deal if you’re
really into the movie, but I gotta say I was
getting pretty burnt out by the end.
The second con is related to the story and
is specifically about how many unresolved
plot threads are left open.
So, I realize this might sound pretty nitpicky
for a musical, but since I personally am never
able to just get lost in the magic of a musical,
I do tend to focus in on the story and plot.
And this movie really put itself in a challenging
situation there because it tries to cover
a lot of things and focus on a lot of characters…
perhaps too many.
And it’s tough because it’s a story about
community, so it makes sense that you’d
have this broad-scope look and I think it
works for the most part… right up until
close to the end.
Because it finishes almost exclusively on
Usnavi’s story.
Which would be okay, except during the third
act, the film sets up a number of plot threads
that don’t get any sort of payoff or resolution
in any of the film’s multiple endings.
Probably the most frustrating unresolved ending
for me, has to do with Sonny and it just makes
that particularly plot line feel like it was
tacked on at the last minute and never properly
integrated into the story.
Before I give you my rating and recommendations,
I want to remind you that if you’re interested
in buying In the Heights or any of the films
I mention today, I do have affiliate links
for all of them in the description below.
I get a small commission from anything you
buy using one of my links, so I’d really appreciate
if you’d use them if you’re in the market
for any of these movies.
I’m gonna give In the Heights 3 out of 5
It has a decent story and some okay musical
numbers, but suffers a bit from pacing issues
and an inability to devote enough time to
all of the key characters it sets up.
I would recommend In the Heights to fans of
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work as well as to
fans of musicals in general.
The songs here have that snappy, rappy modernity
to them that you probably expect from Miranda,
so if you enjoyed that in say Hamilton, I
imagine you’ll like this too.
And I think people who really like the extravagance
and big production of musicals will probably
have a really good time with this, especially
if you’re somebody who lives in a city and
can really connect with the core themes of
community on a deeper level.
If you liked In the Heights, I would recommend
So, it’s technically not a movie, rather
a recording of a stage production, but it
is available on Disney+ and is another Lin-Manuel
Miranda musical, in which he has a much larger
performing role.
If you want another recent musical about characters
working towards their dreams, I would suggest
La La Land.
I would say that one’s more in a traditional
Hollywood musical style, but there are still
some thematic similarities.
And if you want another movie about New York
City communities during a sweltering summer,
you should check out Do the Right Thing.
It’s not a musical and certainly more intense
with its themes, but does a really good job
of capturing the vibe and essence of a New
York City community.
Alright, a couple questions for you guys.
Number one: Have you seen In the Heights?
If so, what’d you think of it?
And number two: What’s your favorite modern
live-action musical?
Be sure to leave your answers in the comments
below so we can get a discussion going.
Alright, so if you got some enjoyment, insight,
or information out of this review, I’d appreciate
it if you’d hit that like button.
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Till next time, this has been Alyssa with
Mainely Movies: The way life should be.

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