Representation matters. I am especially aware of that this month, Pride month, which is why the importance of the new film In the Heights can never be diminished. Based on the musical Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and took to Broadway before Hamilton, In the Heights goes from stage to screen in a big-budget, glossy, cast-of-thousands celebration of the Latinx community like never seen before in a Hollywood studio film. It really is an achievement and big step forward for the industry.
I only wish I had liked it more.
Don’t get me wrong, director John M. Chu is crazy good at mounting gorgeous epics of this scale, as evidenced by his fantastically entertaining Crazy Rich Asians, which I loved, back in 2018. Chu brings a whirling, flash-mob energy to In the Heights, filling the screen with huge dance numbers, mesmerizingly joyful choreography, and dream-like New York cityscapes, rich with color and texture. The opening sequences remind one of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, as that film introduced us to the inhabitants of Brooklyn, so does In the Heights welcome the audience to the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. Washington Heights is a working-class, immigrant neighborhood, mostly Latinx. Usnavi, played by Anthony Ramos, is a local bodega owner who dreams of returning to his native Dominican Republic and running his own store there. Usnavi is surrounded by friends and his adopted family in the neighborhood, as it becomes clear that this is more than a block, it is one big, extended family.