Review: ‘In the Heights’ Film

Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) share a moment during the song, “Carnaval del Barrio” in the film adaption of ‘In the Heights’ (Photo Credit: Screenshot from one of the trailers via Warner Bros. Pictures Official YouTube Channel)

Kathryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker once said, “I’m drawn to filmmaking that can transport me. Film can immerse you, put you there.” This is very much true about Jon M. Chu’s film, In the Heights. Based on the Tony-winning Broadway musical by the same name, In the Heights tells the story of the Latino neighborhood in Washington Heights, which is a part of the Manhattan borough of New York City, and at the heart of the story is the dreams of the people who live there.

One of the biggest strengths of In the Heights is the cast.  Anthony Ramos plays the main character/ narrator Usnavi de la Vega, originated on Broadway by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who plays Piragüero (Piraqua Guy) in the film. The only other original cast member from the Broadway production to make the transition to the silver screen is Olga Merediz who plays Abuela Claudia in both versions. Merediz is absolutely sublime in reprising her stage character for the silver screen.  However, there are a couple of “blink and you’ll miss it” cameos of actors from the original Broadway cast. There is also a Hamilton easter egg in the In the Heights film.


Melissa Barrera (Vanessa), Corey Hawkins (Benny), Gregory Diaz IV (Sonny), Noah Catala (Graffiti Pete), and Leslie Grace (Nina) are all immensely talented and were perfectly cast for their subsequent roles. Stephanie Beatriz, who is best known for her role on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, is superb as naïve yet funny Carla.

Daphne Rubin-Vega plays Daniela in ‘In the Heights. (Photo Credit: Screenshot from a trailer via Warner Bros. Pictures Official YouTube Channel)

The underrated actress in the film is Daphne Rubin-Vega as Daniela. Rubin-Vega, who is best known for originating the role of Mimi Marquez in the Broadway musical, Rent, has a few great moments during In the Heights and really shines during her musical number “Carnaval del Barrio.”  Ruben-Vega’s radiance during the song can only be described as awe-inspiring.

Chu’s vision of In the Heights is a masterpiece as well. The way the film transitions between magical realism and reality is effortless. The musical numbers are also brilliantly choreographed and staged especially the song “96,000,” which were possibly inspired by the old Ester Williams films.


In the Heights also does a great job of incorporating timely issues like gentrification (which is at the core of the stage version) and the problems that the young immigrants who were classified as “dreamers” under the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Act faced under President Donald Trump. The latter played a large part in Sonny’s story.

There are a few slight changes in song placements/ cuts and minor plot points as well a character wrote out of the film, but this does not affect the film negatively. The only disappointment was that the legendary Jimmy Smits who plays taxicab company owner, Kevin Rosario, did not get to sing Kevin’s two short songs “Inútil” and “Atención.”


In the Heights will be released in theaters as well as HBO Max on June 11, however, if you see it in the theater, you will not be disappointed. In fact, it is recommended to see it in the theater.  In the Heights is surely to be the first feel-good film of the summer movie season, and with the year most of the world has had, a film like this is well needed right now.


Sources: Warner Bros. Pictures Official YouTube Channel, IMDB, National Immigration Law Center, The Hollywood Reporter


Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one contributing writer and may not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors



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