I love musicals. I absolutely love them, especially the ones worked on by Lin Manuel Miranda. With musicals like Hamilton and Moana under his belt, I just knew that ‘In The Heights’ would not disappoint. It was an explosion of bright colours, music, culture and a loving community.
A brief summary
The 2021 film follows Usnavi, the bodega owner, and his dream to fly back to the Dominican Republic and rebuild his father’s business. Every day he’s saving with his dream in mind, but until then he takes care of the old Cuban lady who mothers the whole neighbourhood and pines after Vanessa, the aspiring fashion designer. His best friend, Benny, dreams of a life as a wealthy businessman, while Benny’s ex-girlfriend, Nina, a college student, struggles with the weight of the neighbourhood’s expectations, especially her father. The musical looks at issues present in our reality in the lives of the Latin and Caribbean population of Washington Heights, touching on racism, immigration, gentrification and more.
‘In the Heights’ pulls you in by telling a story full of heart, wrapped in a colourful musical that breathes life into the most hopeless souls. I’m exaggerating, but you get the point. Here are my main takeaways:
live in the present
Usnavi often says throughout the movie that the days in the Dominican Republic with his father were the ‘best days of his life.' It’s easy to look back at our childhood with a rose-tinted glass and wish we were back in those carefree times. But it’s important not to dwell on the past or even focus on the future; we should live in the present and aim to make each day the best day of our life. Think about what made your childhood so much fun and try and recreate something similar in your life today. Childhood fun doesn’t have to end just because you’ve grown up; listen to the inner child in you.
You are not powerless
During the blackout, the residents of Washington Heights felt powerless, both literally and figuratively. I think sometimes we too look at our lives and feel powerless, and while that may very well be the case, we still have power over ourselves and how we react in the face of our struggles. Usnavi said it best, “Maybe we’re powerless…How do you want to face it?” How do you want to face your struggles? You’re already struggling, so why make it worse for yourself with an attitude of ‘there’s nothing you can do’. And if you can’t fight for yourself, seek help from your loved ones or a professional who can help you help yourself; there’s always strength in numbers and you’re never alone.
We live in a world that tells you that you have one path to go down with no other options. From school to university to a job to marriage, then death. It’s even worse when you’re part of a minority group, facing people and systems who are always trying to put a ceiling on your potential. But you do have options, your dreams don’t have to be just dreams. Out there, there are opportunities waiting for you, you just have to find them.
We live in a made-up world, a lot of our life is socially constructed. We create realities based on the shared assumptions of the culture we partake in. If you’ve been constantly surrounded by people who think you must go to university to succeed, you may feel like you’re trapped and unable to live your dream of travelling while young, for example. But you don’t have to live with that reality—you can create your own; there are resources out there that can help you live your dream. The sky is the limit.
Keeping it short and sweet
To conclude, go watch ‘In The Heights’. I’d personally rate it ten out of ten. It’s heart-warming. It’s fun. It’s full of love, community, and culture. As I’ve demonstrated, there are a lot of life lessons (and a few TikTok sounds too!) that everyone can enjoy.