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In the Heights | My Review
I watched this movie the Friday after it was released on HBO Max. Yay for being able to watch movies this way, btw! I honestly went into it expecting a similar vibe to that of Hamilton, knowing it was envisioned and lyrically written by Lin. Of course, I was right. He has a style that is all his own. Taking the classic musical and infusing it with rap. I can’t say that is something I like. Mostly because I equate musicals with this feeling that I want to see them over and over again. I want to learn the songs and sing-a-long with the movie.
Musical movies is my favorite genre. My love of them came from my mother who introduced me to the classics. Such titles as Hello, Dolly!, My Fair Lady, Top Hat, Summer Stock, Singin’ in the Rain, and so many more that I won’t list. These are musicals I’ve watched so many times I can sing the songs and recite the movie lines with little mistakes. They are “feel-good” movies.
When it came to the songs from In the Heights, they were expertly done. If you can follow what they are saying. About 90% of the songs are rapping and because of the nature of rap, a lot can get lost in speed and translation. I don’t mean the fact that some of the songs were in Spanish. I actually loved that reality of them. More Spanish, please! What I mean by translation is that the style of rap has a defining rhythm and staccato which may not appeal to everyone and a movie like In the Heights needs to be seen by as many people as possible.
In the last week, since I’ve been meaning to write this review, I’ve had just one other movie in mind, as I’m sure many did who knew this movie was coming, West Side Story. In truth, it’s the only movie musical I can think of that has is both world-renowned and has that Hispanic cast. And I also can’t help but think how maybe I was meant to be late with this review so I can add to the narrative that is currently going around about In the Heights and what some are saying is a lack of diversity in the types of Hispanics represented on screen.
My initial eye-roll reaction when I saw that was, “no one is ever satisfied.” Instead of thanking Lin for putting together such a masterpiece that will be seen by millions and expose this culture to millions, the attitude (and from his own people) is that he didn’t put every kind of Hispanic in the movie and give them a prominent role? Really? Give the man a break! Not every shade of black or brown or white needs to be in the movie. What you need to be doing is telling your friends and family to watch it. Your co-workers and our neighbors. Do you know why? Cause the more people who watch a cultural movie like this the more movie producers (those white guys you blame for not giving minorities enough representation on screen) will see where the money is and pour more money into making those kinds of movies. Then you know what will happen? There will be other musicals and dramas and comedies with even more shades of brown and black and whatever.
I hate when people insist everything including the kitchen sink is included and if it isn’t then it’s trash and garbage and not worth anyone’s time. When did society get this way? It’s not a one-and-done world we are living in. It’s a “one and give me more, please” world. Always has been and always will be. So when a movie icon like Rita Morena says “just wait” she doesn’t mean anything other than, give the industry time to catch up and you’ll see more opportunities open up. Lin is just getting started and your attitude towards this movie is not helping. So when he’s not able to get the funding for another Hispanic-led movie and this all “blows over” there will be no one to blame here for that, but you.
Now, back to my actual review of the movie!
I spoke my piece on the music, now let’s look at the cast themselves. I honestly only want to talk about one character in particular. Abuela Claudia stole the show for me. She reminded me so much of a woman in my old neighborhood growing up, Santa. She owned a Spanish restaurant on the corner of the apartment building I lived in. She would always make me the most delicious breakfast every morning before I went to school and never charged me for it. Every now and then I’d help out and get the things she needed from the bodega up the street if she was running low on supplies. Everyone went to Santa’s restaurant for the best Puerto Rican dishes you could ever want. That brought back so many fond memories of my childhood. And Olga Merediz’s song, Paciencia Y Fe was masterful. That also brought back memories for me. Specifically, the scene in the subway. That tunnel? The movie doesn’t nearly do justice to just how long and creepy that tunnel actually is. I got chills just thinking about it.
The storyline itself isn’t anything new. A group of people who come from nothing and nowhere have big dreams to “make it” out in America, the land of dreams. What’s funny is the main character actually is looking to return to his native land while everyone else is looking to make their dreams come true right at home. Of course, there are the cultural implications of Dreamers and what that means from their point-of-view, which is captured perfectly by a young boy who has a deadbeat father (played by an emaciated looking Mark Anthony who seems to just always look too damn skinny), is illegal, and has to come to terms with what that means for his future if he intends to make it in America at all. I won’t spoil what happens but I do want to touch on the ending.
I think how it ended was my only disappointment. And when I think about it, most movies nowadays are disappointing me with their endings. I wish writers and directors would spend more time on the ending because it always seems so rushed and last minute and unsatisfying. This movie is no different. What bothered me is that none of the cast members were there except for the main character and his love interest. Am I really supposed to believe that everybody moved on with their lives and left the hood? I find the opposite is more true. A few leave, but the majority stay behind.
Lastly, the fact that the main character, after his dream of returning to his home country and rebuilding his father’s little market on the beach literally happens, decides to stay? I found that to be pretty sad. I’m sure I was supposed to be satisfied that he gets the girl and they have a kid and whatnot. But he literally spent his entire life dreaming about the best time in his life (that he could’ve easily shared with his wife and child) only to stay in the hood with his bodega? And the lack of any sort of closure on the other people we got to meet along the way I didn’t like either. Stop giving me an entire cast of characters where I’m supposed to just make up my own mind on “where are they now” in their life. It’s okay to give us a bit more context and closure on other characters! Really, it is.