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In the Heights is an uplifting story of American dreamers

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Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) directs this screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes based on Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony-winning musical stage play about Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos), a Washington Heights bodega owner who dreams—and sings—about a better life, and the various residents of the neighborhood around him. (143 min.)

LA DANZA DE LA VIDA Usnavi (Anthony Ramos, left foreground) and Vanessa (Melissa Barrera, right foreground) take to the streets and dance with their neighbors, in the wildly entertaining and emotionally resonant musical, In the Heights, screening at most local theaters. - PHOTO COURTESY OF WARNER BROS.
  • Photo Courtesy Of Warner Bros.
  • LA DANZA DE LA VIDA Usnavi (Anthony Ramos, left foreground) and Vanessa (Melissa Barrera, right foreground) take to the streets and dance with their neighbors, in the wildly entertaining and emotionally resonant musical, In the Heights, screening at most local theaters.

Glen I can't even express how much I loved this musical! It's so emotive and entertaining—I felt like I wept for joy almost throughout. It's a terrific story about a young man who was brought to America at age 8, eventually lost his parents, and constantly dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic, where he spent "the best days of my life." His neighborhood is a real community, but one constantly under threat of disappearing through gentrification. When the local hair salon decides to move, when the local taxi company finds it has to sell part of its building, and when Usnavi decides to leave his bodega and return to his native country—these are serious erosions of a rich Latino community that may spell its doom. The only thing that's making Usnavi question his move is his worry for his little cousin, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), and his unrequited love for beautiful Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who has her own dream of being a fashion designer. The songs are terrific, the direction is splashy and fun, the big dance numbers are thrilling, but what really makes this film sing—literally and figuratively—is its amazing cast. I'm in love with this film.

Anna The word I think of when reliving this movie-watching experience is "magical." It's bright and beautiful, catchy and endearing, and I too had a steady stream of tears throughout the film. I'm glad that this is available through HBO Max to watch at home, but if at all possible, I encourage you to see it in the theater. They're reopened and safe, and this film seems to be playing everywhere—and for good reason! It may be a gap in my knowledge base, but one thing I loved seeing in this film is a lot of fresh faces that were relatively unknown to me. Most of the cast seems to have some film credits, but I suspect this group has spent a lot of time in the live theater world. The dancing is phenomenal and full of life, the singing sincere and beautiful, and the storyline is sweet without straying into sappy. I will be watching this one over and over again. I can already tell! Ramos as Usnavi is a fantastic lead, and in the setup he's telling a tale of Washington Heights to a group of young children on the beach in front of his dad's Dominican bar Sueñito, or "Little Dream." Props to Diaz IV as Sonny, too. He's funny and so sweet and has been raised mostly by Usnavi and matriarch of the neighborhood, Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz). But soon enough we learn that his immigration status is going to cause major problems for his big dreams. I just am so in love with this movie—do yourself a favor and give it a watch!

Glen You're absolutely right about this demanding to be seen in the theater. I don't care how big your flat-screen is or how badass your surround sound system, the experience won't be the same as on the big screen in a dark theater surrounded by other film lovers. We went to Downtown Centre in SLO where we sat in super comfy recliners close to the screen, and were fully immersed in this story of people who believe in the American Dream, even those who know it's often impossible to attain. Aside from Usnavi and Vanessa, the other two leads are Usnavi's best friend, Benny (Corey Hawkins), and Benny's love interest, Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace), the smartest girl in the neighborhood who moved away to attended Stanford. Benny is a dispatcher for the local cab company run by Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), Nina's proud father. When Nina comes home to say she's leaving Stanford, her father is crushed while Benny sees an opportunity to rekindle their romance. All of these various storylines interweave into a rich tapestry of immigrants and their dreams of what they can achieve in America. They're strivers, hard workers, and contributors to what makes America such an amazing country. Usnavi may think his Dominican Republic childhood contained the best days of his life, but only because he's looking backward. In the Heights is a film about learning to look forward.

Anna Nina is a great character—the whole neighborhood is so proud of how smart she is, how she got out of the neighborhood and is attending a prestigious school across the country. But Nina is homesick and unhappy, and the bright shiny dream life she imagined isn't happening. Plus, she has major guilt about the financial burden her education is placing on her father. She tries to tell him the deadline to pay for the next quarter is closed, but when he investigates further, he learns that isn't true—she is lying to try to protect him. The fact is she misses her friends and her block. It's where her comfort is. It's a well thought out, well rounded storyline, and in the end we see Nina find the guiding light she has been searching for when it comes to her future. Lin-Manuel Miranda's brief but joyous time on-screen is as Piragüero, a shaved ice cart owner in a feud with a rival ice cream truck driver. This movie is full of fun little moments like that, like when the block finds out someone bought a winning lotto ticket at Usnavi's bodega and they all sing and dance in the neighborhood pool about what they would do with that $96,000. I can't sing praises high enough here—this is exactly the feel-good uplift we can all use, and unless you absolutely can't stand musicals, this is a must-see. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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