PG-13. I think the filmmakers were aiming for that sweet PG-13 money versus the R because In the Heights is way more General Audiences friendly than Hamilton was with the f-bombs and the like. There is language, but it is almost tactical in its use. There are some sexual references throughout, but it kind of leaves it at "references" as opposed to anything overt. I know that my wife, who at this point has memorized the soundtrack, strategically asked kids distracting questions over any sexual references. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jon M. Chu
For the sake of my wife, who is now obsessed, this is a perfect movie and you don't have to read any more. The rest of this blog is only going to be a repetition of the phrases "This is a perfect film" and "Didn't I tell you to stop reading because this is a perfect film?" It's also one of the few blog entries I can almost guarantee a looksee from my wife. (I write a lot. She has a life. This is how the world works.) Honestly, I really did love this movie. My wife was able to watch this a week before I did and played the soundtrack non-stop. Everyone she talked to, it was In the Heights this, and In the Heights that. Considering how much she hyped it up, I was genuinely pleased by how good the movie was. Unfortunately, I only have key phrases stuck in my head, which does not a song make. (For those questioning, the phrases I have are "Good morning, Usnavi" and "Piragua" just over and over, which may be driving me insane.)
Lin-Manuel Miranda might be one of the most talented human beings alive. I know that I've heard criticism that his rhymes, considering that his influence is hip hop, might be a bit safe and easy. But I don't think that his fandom really hears that. Perhaps from a deep dive perspective, there might be an element of truth. I really want to be the total package when it comes to the arts, but my understanding of music is by far my weakest area, so I can only comment that a soundtrack like In the Heights straight up spits fire. It's bananas to think that Miranda wrote this during his sophomore year of college and that it translates so well into film today.
A lot of that comes from the fact that Jon Chu, who did Crazy Rich Asians, understands what it means to celebrate a culture while simultaneously making things look real pretty. In the Heights, keeping this celebration in mind, might be the most optimistic movie that I've ever seen, and it deals with the death of a sweet old lady. That's not supposed to be the case. But if you ever wanted to show Exhibit A about why gentrification is completely toxic without being preachy about it, show In the Heights. Chu and Miranda stress the fact that the warts of a culture are absolutely gorgeous. No one in Washington Heights exactly has what they want. Usnavi sees America as a land of failed dreams and sees potential in a dilapidated bar thousands (?) of miles away. Vanessa desperately wants to leave Washington Heights, despite the fact that everyone she knows and loves is there. Nina sees the Heights as a place she let down. Sonny sees the Heights as a prison, a place of safety that hides him from immigration. The only main character who finds value in Washington Heights is Benny, and --as much as I love him --he is only a secondary or tertiary character.
But the film keeps telling us that Washington Heights is a magical place. Usnavi makes the kids repeat the phrase "Washington Heights" so, like Tinkerbell, the children will believe and the place will not disappear. But instead of just telling us that the place is magical, the film makes us see beyond the misery of a hot day in New York and helps us understand what makes this place so special. With gentrification on the horizon, the movie implies that places like Washington Heights will no longer exist unless the people who love it stand up and believe in it. It's an absolutely gorgeous concept that is balanced marvelously.
But because this isn't necessarily a film review blog, so much as it is free-flowing mental garbage that I want to discuss with friends, I do have to question the framing device. I don't know how this works in the play version (which I'm really curious to watch now based on the visuals that Chu put in his version), but Usnavi is an older storyteller from the perspective of being in the Dominican Republic. He's sitting on a beach with his father's bar, now rebuilt, and telling the story of his glory days in Washington Heights. About ten minutes into the movie, I kind of guessed that there was more to the framing narrative (because I'm smart!) than simply Usnavi talking to kids on the beach about how he ended up in the Domincan Republic. But my theory was that everyone in that scenario didn't exist. I thought that Usnavi was talking to the road not travelled. I mean, I'm partially right. But we find out that we're still in his bodega and that it has just been painted to look like a beach.
I'm really trivializing this. I know that the physical manifestation of the beach is Usnavi's sense of compromise. He gets to celebrate his Dominican roots while embracing his role in Washington Heights. But part of me feels like this is a lie. Also --and this is me being a real butt -- it kind of feels like Usnavi settled. The film is about Usnavi and his relationship with Vanessa. He absolutely adores her for her. I mean, I'm sure that she's sick of being hit on by men, so I don't know what she sees in Usnavi. But we're rooting for them. They have the biggest dilemma in the film because the spectre of the Dominican Republic looms over their relationship the entire time. It manifests in the form of lost investment and short fuses. But it's heavily implied that Vanessa is the mother of those children, so we're trying to piece together how Usnavi ended up in the DR while still being with Vanessa. And what happens is that Usnavi is the one who makes all of the sacrifices.
It's really weird that Vanessa never really bats the idea around of going to the Dominican Republic. When I mentioned this to my wife, she stated that they hadn't dated that long to justify her leaving. But I'm going to fight that because the reverse is true for Usnavi. Usnavi had always wanted to return to continue his father's legacy. He wanted to own something that was his family's. Yeah, the bodega works, but it feels like it only really works if you are squinting. Vanessa shows off the bodega, adorned with fashion dummies with her work and wants Usnavi to see the Heights through his eyes. That's really touching. But Usnavi has the same vision for the collapsed bar. The ceiling is on the ground and the pipes are rusted, but he still sees something that would connect him to his father. Also, Vanessa could be a fashion designer anywhere.
But I get it. It is about supporting this land. I've always been of the mentality that, if a place is oppressing us and stopping us from being our full selves, we should leave. But I know that doesn't necessarily apply to everyone. I can see myself borderline living anywhere. But some people are really attached to region and that's the difference between Usnavi and Vanessa. While Usnavi really wants to go to the Dominican Republic, he finds his happiness with Vanessa. He'll do anything for her and that's what makes it touching.
And as much as I've been writing about Usnavi and Vanessa, my wife and I both agreed that Benny and Nina were way more interesting as a couple. Nina, Benny, and --by extension --Sonny are way more interesting. There isn't much that is toxic in that relationship. Vanessa seems very put off for a lot of the movie. She knows that she's attractive, mainly because every male character seems mildly obsessed with her. It forces Usnavi to address his internal conflict about taking risks and being vulnerable, which makes him low key toxic as well. But Nina and Benny seem like the lovers that were always meant to be. Nina has a genuine crisis of character. She doesn't want to contribute to a system that exploits her people, but also knows that the only way that she can change the system is to fake it for a while. It's this existential crisis and Benny never really passes judgment on her. His entire role is to remove stress. He's the least pushy character and sees the morality of every situation. The only time that he really hurts Nina is when the power goes out and he takes it upon himself to ensure that everyone is safe in a cab. That's a great relationship.
It's a pretty great movie. Yeah, I wish that there was a better ending for the main characters. But I can't deny that that it is a pretty good ending. It's not perfect, but that's okay. It's a gorgeous movie with very impressive visuals and music. That's what you need out of a musical.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.