‘In The Heights’ Review: Brown Boy Joy and So Much More!
Spoiler Warning: The following review contains spoilers to the theatrical release of In The Heights. You have been warned.
Hi, My name is Quinzel, and I haven't been to the movies in over a year.
I hadn't really missed much on the entertainment scene. Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, and even the release of HBO Max has kept me preoccupied during this pandemic. From the release of Mortal Kombat, to rewatching the entire series of Moesha from the '90s, streaming movies vs physically going to a movie theater wasn't so bad. Plus, the chances of catching a highly contagious virus were pretty minimal while watching at home. A lot of positives were wrapped in that choice.
However, there were a lot of things I missed about the movie theater. The smell of buttered popcorn, the laughter and at times, shock, from the audience, and those moments that just appear larger than life. You know, THOSE moments that just don't hit the same when you're watching from home.
Not all movies have those moments. But I've been a huge fan of In The Heights since the beginning. I saw it when it was on tour and played the musical soundtrack on repeat for years to come. I know every breath and every beat from the original Broadway soundtrack. There was a moment where I was about to enter my first job out of college, at a call center for a cable company. I HATED working in a call center. Dreading the moments before I would clock in, I blasted "It Won't Be Long Now" on repeat, imagining that I too, would be hopping on an elevator train taking me away from it all.
In The Heights had a very special place in my heart, so when I heard it was becoming a movie, I already knew I was seeing it. I figured that this movie was actually the perfect movie for me to see after such a long time away from the theater. I was able to completely immerse myself in this world and forget I was sitting in a dark theater from the first note.
Let me be clear about how this review is going to go: I loved this movie. And I think you will too. After the kind of *gestures at everything* we've all been through, we've all NEEDED this movie.
Brown Boy Joy
Something I LOVED about In The Heights is how it display brown men and boys just enjoying life! Happy, smiling, dancing joyful men. Showing emotions and unafraid to. Men in love, men grieving, men in pain, men feeling empathy, men feeling bashful. Showing something other than your typical stoic man is just so important and so amazing to see. I was extremely happy to see brown men in such a positive light. it made me happy to see. I'm only a little disappointed because this should be the norm. But this is why when you have people of color in charge of projects, you get more in-depth stories, more in-depth emotions, more relatable characters, and overall, more brown boy joy :).
We Are Not Invisible
One thing that people used to joke with me when I was younger and they would watch a musical "Black people don't just break into song, that would be weird" Truth is, the hood is music. A song comes on, someone jumps in to sing. A young boy is drumming on his desk. A car is playing music on their speakers down the block. The hood is nothing but song and dance. "We are not invisible" Abuela says to Nina, and it's true. We've been fed a lie that the formula to musical theater is...well, very white. I adore Lin Manuel Miranda for breaking the mold and paving the way so that POC are not invisible not just in the musical theater space, but to the world.
Smart Brown Kids Unite
I don't know if Nina's story of dropping out of college is more impactful onscreen or if I've just gained more perspective on the issue over the last 13 years of my life. Just like Nina, I was the smart kid, the genius, the one everyone knew would go far. I finished college, but not without my fair share of hardships. When Nina recalls the story of being searched because her roommate accuses her of taking her personal belongings, I couldn't help to reflect on a similar story of when I was in college. I'm sure every POC will have that moment where they watch that scene and can reflect on a similar painful moment. Like anyone accepted to college, you're smart, but when you're a POC, it's always assumed that your acceptance is based on affirmative action, so you have to work twice as hard to prove your intelligence. You can't slip up or make a mistake like most kids do in college because as a POC, you are the first person the other students or administration will point fingers at. That doesn't even cover the amount of racism you encounter. From daily microaggressions to blatant racist actions against you (true story, I once had a swastika drawn on my dry erase board) mentally, the strain can be insurmountable on a POC going to college. Nina's feelings are all too relatable, even down to the struggle to tell her father and not want to disappoint her community.
Nina was such an important character and you definitely end up rooting for her the entire time. I loved seeing the way that this character has evolved from stage to film.
GO SEE IT! GO!
Even if you are like me and you've seen the musical and listened to the soundtrack countless times, this movie still brings new emotions as if you're seeing it for the first time ever. I laughed as if I've never heard the line "damn we only joking, stay broke then" before. The subtle twists and turns made this precious musical as if I were seeing it for the first time again.
For those who have never seen In The Heights, I totally recommend you go see it. Yes. even if musicals aren't your thing, this one is guaranteed to make you smile.
And just on the off chance that Lin-Manuel Miranda is reading this right now, I fell in love with In The Heights as a college graduate back in 2008 and have been in a musical relationship with it ever since. This musical has carried me through ups, downs, and further downs. What kept me going through every job rejection, every book rejection, and every broken heel at the bus stop (those Payless shoes break easily) was Vanessa's voice singing "It Won't Be Long Now". Now that In The Heights is a movie, I can look back and see that I made it. I held on, and I'm even closer to my dreams.
Thank you Lin-Manuel for making In The Heights possible. Your dream made it possible to live mine <3