After a delayed release due to COVID-19, Lin Manuel Miranda’s, In the Heights was released to theaters and HBO Max on June 10, 2021. Based on the musical which put Miranda on the map before the iconic Hamilton, In the Heights (Heights) was adapted to a motion picture format unlike Hamilton’s release to Disney plus which was a live recording of a stage performance. Does Heights live up to its famous brother, Hamilton? The Conservative Critic finds out by asking: Is it entertaining? Does it have intellectual/artistic value? And most important of all, is it liberal propaganda?
The Conservatvie Critic Meter Check: In the Heights
Overall Rating: Very Good
Heights takes place in the neighborhood (or more appropriately, the “bario”) Washington Heights located at the northernmost point of Manhattan, New York. The stage musical was written in 1999 when Miranda was in college but today the bario is still a neighborhood primarily serving many generational families who immigrated originally came from Latin America and the Carribean.
The musical celebrates these cultures with all the vibrance and excitement that they embody. The film is full of the same color and thrill that the original musical intended. Reminiscent of the classic West Side Story but with a fresh perspective (and a love story less fraught), Heights delivers on nostalgia, romance and fun. Putting aside the extremely forced liberal messaging and a bit of a slow point at the top of the second act, Heights tops the summer releases so far and is worth a drive over to your local AMC theater.
Is it entertaining?
Rating: Loads of fun
Caveat: Heights is loads of fun if you think musicals are fun. If you don’t like musicals obviously it’s not for you.
Heights brings the heat of an urban summer to life in a way that has little been matched. The oppressive oven of concrete and 80% humidity which the mid-atlantic American urban corridor enjoys yearly inspires both exhaustion and fantastical exhilaration. Heights manages to make the viewer feel part of summer.
In Miranda’s signature style, the music of Heights is varied between lyrical hip-hop and classic musical theater. The dance numbers are elaborate – and this is where West Side Story starts to come into view. Celebrating Latin American dance, viewers are treated to night club salsa and street adapted flamenco. With plenty of highs and lows in the musical numbers and several subplots surrounding the main love story, the only place a viewer might find themselves a little bored is at the top of the second act when the story lags a little where the characters conflicts have reached their peak but not quite climaxed into the downward spiral of resolution. This is unsurprising since the film runs 2 hours and 23 minutes (you know how I get with those who refuse to show restraint). This runtime might have worked on stage where a ticket on Broadway sometimes costs a few hundred dollars but it probably needed a little trimming for the movie.
All together it’s a summer fun film that is good for the whole family and will make you want to get outside and play in the heat….or just watch more summer movies.
Does it have artistic/intellectual value?
Heights shines in its quality. If there is a flaw in the drag of the plot or the absurd liberal agenda zip tied to every belt loop, its made up for by the truly superior crafting of the film.
Directed by Jon Chu who is perhaps best known for Crazy Rich Asians (which is great) but actually has directed a lot action packed, sequence based films such as the Step Up franchise and Now You See Me 2 which accounts for why his cinematographic choices were so perfect. With a clear perspective on how to capture dance and more importantly how to harness energy, Chu brings a big show with wide camera angles but never loses sight of his stars. It’s a masterclass in filmography.
The film’s stars absolutely drip with charm. It has long been the belief of the Conservative Critic that Anthony Ramos (Hamilton, A Star is Born) who plays the lead, Usnavi, should have played Alexander Hamilton instead of Miranda on Broadway. Heights solidifies this opinion as Ramos brings nothing but charisma and absolutely electrifies every scene he enters. Ramos has that special kind of star power that crackles at his feet and sends his performances into a new tier. But newcomer to the American screen, Melissa Berrera holds her own opposite Ramos as his love interest and fashion maven, Vanessa. With the daunting task of shining through her own beauty and the sheer size of the film, Vanessa manages relatability as she belts her vocals and hits her kicks.
The film also treats viewers to Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn 99) as a flirty soprano, Carla, with style for days. She brings humor to the story but never goes fully into caricature. The supporting cast is all equally talented and explosive on screen with no weak spots to be found. Particularly since Miranda himself only played a bit part as a cameo. He is a phenomenal writer. His acting could use work.
Fashion is truly a star of Heights in and of itself. With the world unjustly raving about the fashion in this summer’s Cruella, viewers will be much more satisfied with the innovation, risks and high fashion street style which make up the costume design of Heights. Mitchell Travers deserves more praise being sung in his direction. With a deep respect for Latinx culture but an eye for modern style, the looks in the Heights are authentic enough to work as a costume for the movie but could walk on any runway today. A true artist, Travers spent hours photographing the neighborhood and drew his inspiration from the hundreds of photos he captured. His commitment paid off and the costumes sell the film into something more spectacular and celebratory than it would have been otherwise (it’s worth noting that he was also the costume designer for Late Night where he managed to style Emma Thompson as though she was Conan O’Brien).
Finally, the musical numbers are well written and the plot, in its simplicity, tells a bigger story about growing up and coming to terms with the truth about dreams. Miranda’s vision and execution is perfect and the film much like its 4 Tony award winning musical counterpart is a true masterpiece.
Is it liberal propaganda?
The movie was supposed to be released right before the 2020 election so they really did everything they could to be political. It was quite poorly done because the original musical written and performed by Miranda at Wesleyan College in 1999 did not include any particular politics. It celebrated culture and told a simple love story in a small bario in Manhattan. Its the spirit of this original work that carries the movie to its success.
The shoe-horned political ideology is badly placed and inauthentic not to mention actually pretty out of fashion even with liberals. There is an overarching theme that the neighborhood is upset that they’re changing and services are becoming more expensive and chasing out local business. The idea that “gentrification” is bad for people is extremely progressive and lacks any foundation in reality. Its good when neighborhoods get nicer. Jobs become better paying. Quality of life becomes higher. It does come with drawbacks of higher cost of living but that can be offset through selling now high value properties and gaining employment at the new higher wage stores and businesses. Capitalism raises all boats. But in the film of course no its a mean evil (family owned) dry cleaner charging way too much. It’s the mean business man dad selling his taxi company (just in time considering Uber would have been right around the corner) to pay for his daughter to go to an ivy league school. The good good hair salon was chased away by the ever changing neighborhood (to a better location with more traffic). The main character wants to move back to the Dominican to open a bar but decides to stay because he has to save the neighborhood.
Additionally, they decided to half heartedly add a Dreamer (recall Dreamers versus DACA. Dreamers are children under 15 who were brought to America by parents without papers within a certain time frame) plot line. Randomly one of the characters turns out to be a Dreamer without papers and he laments that he cannot go to college. This is odd for a 2021 feature film because – actually – most state universities do not check immigration status. So if this character, who owned Beats and a new iPhone meaning its not supposed to take place in 1999, went to public high school in New York which I assume he did, he would be able to go in-state to any college in New York per his grades and probably get full student aid. And yet the film presents this issue like “people are trying to send Dreamers back.” I’m pretty sure that no one has so much as mentioned Dreamer deportation since 2005. And further – America’s blind eye toward Dreamers is quite literally what caused our humanitarian crisis at the border where parents in Latin American countries are sending minors across our borders alone in the thousands.
In another random decision to call America racist, one character goes to college in California and comes home screaming that she refuses to go back (despite the many sacrifices her father has made for her) not because it’s hard and she misses home, no, her roommate accused her of stealing. BECAUSE SHE’S RACIST! Not because she was in the room when a necklace went missing. And she was confused for a waitress at a cocktail event. BECAUSE OF RACISM! Not because she was wearing a similar looking outfit to the servers and was a young woman (P.S. I have been confused for servers and bartenders many times).
These moments never quite made a full connection to the primary plot of the film or the overall message and for that reason they didn’t bring the film down. But truly Miranda was trying hard to melt our minds with a progressive agenda.
In the Heights is a high-energy expression of Latinx culture that feels like summer. With its stars glowing with charisma and its musical numbers paced dynamically to keep viewers engaged, Heights is the best thing released this season. From masterful cinematography and innovative costume design to the marvelous source material written by Lin Manuel Miranda, viewers can’t ask for a better reason to get back to theaters. If not for the mismatched progressive (progressive if this was 5 years ago) agenda that needed a serious policy update, the film would be a perfect showing.