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Film Review: In The Heights

In The Heights directed by Jon M. Chu, is a musical filled with elements of hip-hop, salsa, merengue and soul music. The film explores the lives of three characters in the New York City Latino neighbourhood of Washington Heights. It depicts how a Latino community is clinging to their dreams while trying to make ends meet, living paycheck by paycheck, but doing it with their heads held high and with pride. 

We are introduced to three characters: Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a bodega owner who has a dream of moving to the Dominican Republic to rebuild his late father’s bar, Nina (Leslie Grace), a Stanford College student who’s trying to find her path in life, and Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), a nail technician at a salon with a dream to become a fashion designer. It also involves the complicated love affairs of two couples, Usnavi and Vanessa and Nina and Benny, an off-license taxi dispatcher. As the film progresses, we see the struggles each character faces such as Nina, who returns home from college feeling lost and discouraged and shares her college experience as lonely. She fears the disappointment from her father and the community she’s grown up with, telling her that she was “the one who made it out” and waiting for her to succeed. She is drowning in the expectations of others while having to deal with the stereotypes that she faces as a Latina at an elite college. All of this causes her to lose her sense of self and her career path. We can see the transformation in Nina throughout the movie in the beginning, when she shows up from college with her hair straightened and wearing muted colors. This represents her trying to change herself to fit in, but later in the movie as she returns to Washington Heights, she is soon seen with her natural curly hair and wearing brighter colors. 

Then we are introduced to Vanessa, who struggles to accomplish her dream to become a fashion designer. In her current job at a salon, she feels boxed in but endures it because she’s chasing a goal. She breaks into a song about chasing her dream and ends with saying” it won’t be long now, anyday” with a discouraged face. Even though she continuously tells herself that her dreams will come true, there always seems to be barriers that she has to overcome. The stories told by these characters give an authentic view as to what minorities go through to achieve their dreams. 

As a person who was born and raised in Washington Heights, I loved reminiscing on some of my childhood memories that popped up in the film such as piragua, shaved ice with flavored syrup, on a hot summer day and running through the open fire hydrants. This film represented the atmosphere of the neighborhood perfectly, with how the people in the community supported each other and were basically family to one another. We see this with characters such as abuela Claudia who takes care of everyone in the neighborhood and always has people over at her house for gatherings and dinners. 

This film also brings up important issues such as DACA and how Hispanics don’t fit into the “American dream” ideology that if you work hard in America, you will be rewarded for it in the end. There are obstacles that Hispanics and other minorities have to overcome that make it nearly impossible to achieve the American dream. 

Overall, this film showed the robust lives and dreams of the Latino community in Washington Height. There’s a distinct sense of pride that is exhibited in this film, that is celebrating where many of us came from and it shows that we should have a promising outlook towards where we’re all going next.

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