In The Heights: The Review

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

“Washington Heights. Say it, so it doesn’t disappear.”

Thus begins the spell. You have just been entranced and about to embark on a raucous, polyrhythmic journey that you will repeat ad infinitum. 

While the film adaption of the paradigm-shifting musical was supposed to have been released last year it could not have come out at a better time. In The Heights is the movie that the whole world desperately needs right now. It is the panacea for the pandemic. A piping hot bowl of sancocho for the soul.

In The Heights to the rescue. Who would have thought that what humanity needed most after one of the most traumatic periods in human history was a little Washington Heights.

I’m going to put my brujo hat on and make some predictions.

First of all, you will watch this film over and over and over again.

Secondly, this is the movie of the summer. Scratch that, the movie of the year.

Lastly, this is the new “Grease.” A film that will capture the hearts, souls and imaginations of several generations of folks. This film will etch itself into your life. You will remember and sing these songs forever. In the words of that great ATL bard, Andre 3000, “forever ever.”

Be forewarned that if you grew up in Washington Heights or are a fan of the musical you WILL cry multiple times throughout this film. My first tears were shed during the magnificent opening sequence when I saw the just fried salchichon hit the plate alongside the fried cheese. I was a total mess from there. The tears did not stop flowing until the final scene that comes on after the credits (WATCH TO THE VERY END!!!). This was my Washington Heights. The Washington Heights I grew up in. The hustle and bustle is there. The perpetual grind to survive and thrive is there. This film is an outright celebration of Latinos and immigrants and a love letter to our beloved Washington Heights. 

Director Jon M. Chu deserves high praise for the scope, breadth and width of his vision. Making a film adaption of a cherished musical is not an easy task but Jon manages to render that next-level Washington Heights energy perfectly on the big screen. So while the film will also be available on HBO Max until July 11 make sure that you catch this film at least once in a movie theater. It really does hit different in a theater. This is Washington Heights writ large. Washington Heights like you have never seen it before. From Highbridge pool, to 175th and Audubon, to the 191 Tunnel, this is the Heights in full, vibrant color. Washington Heights in all its glory.  

The simply stellar ensemble cast could not have been better selected. Anthony Ramos is incandescent as Usanvi and the only actor that could have done that character justice. The entire cast, from Leslie Grace, to Corey Hawkins, to Melissa Barrera, to Jimmy Smits, to Daphne Ruben Vega all outdid themselves and you could totally feel the magic that they collectively exuded. But Olga Merediz. Wowwwwwww. Olga played the original abuela in the musical and is masterful in the film. Her Pacienca Y Fe scene towards the end of the film will have you bawling your eyes out. 

“Washington Heights. Say it, so it doesn’t disappear.”

These days, sometimes, it does feel like the Washington Heights that we knew is disappearing. The RKO theater is no longer there, the Inwood Library has been demolished to make way for a new one, Margot’s restaurant is only a memory. But we are not powerless. We are powerful. This is ours.

Remember, after The Plague, came The Renaissance.

Let the rebirth begin…

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