In the Heights Review: This year’s best song and dance film masterpiece

Although “In the Heights” in the theme of exploration and the form of no cliché, song and dance scenes are also high standard, but because the film is focused on the marginal life of Latino immigrants, so it is not a very wide audience, if this group replaced by the black community, may be able to get a different response. The creators of the highly rated musical “Hamilton” have once again assembled to produce the song and dance film “In the Heights”, which naturally becomes the best in the already scarce number of song and dance films.

However, although the film IMDb rating of 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes fresh rating of 96%, but the global box office of only more than 30 million dollars. Poor box office, in addition to the continued weakness of theaters under the epidemic, but more importantly, the life of Latinos in the U.S. community of Brooklyn, and not much audience interest.

Usnawi, a young boy in New York’s Latino community, owns a grocery store, but with high rents and unaffordable living expenses, he begins to reminisce about his childhood life with his father in his hometown of Dominican Beach, where he hides his most precious memories. The object of Usnawi’s crush, Vanessa, is a great beauty in the community and wants to break into the design circle where white people dominate the discourse, but she is just an ordinary working girl who does nails in a barber store.

Benny and Nina, on the other hand, are former male girlfriends who have a history of love. At the beginning, because Nina got into Stanford University, is about to go to the West Coast, Benny does not want to let the love between the two become a stumbling block that binds Nina’s future, he painfully proposed a breakup. Now that Nina has dropped out of Stanford and returned to the Latino community in Brooklyn, she can’t stand the thought of her father sacrificing his career for her tuition, and she is determined to leave Stanford because of the discrimination and differences she has suffered at the school.

The film revolves around the love affair of these four young people and their respective encounters.

The film focuses on the love affairs of these four young people and their respective encounters: Usnawi, who wants to follow her father and open a bar in the Dominican Republic; Vanessa, who has a talent for design and a “higher heart than the sky, but a lower body”; Benny, who wants to serve his neighbors in a vehicle dispatching company but faces unemployment; and Nina, who has “the pride of the village” but dropped out of school and doesn’t know where to go.

In addition to the young people who are confused about the future, there is also the sudden death of the older generation. Grandma Claudia, who had no children, but raised the young people of the entire Latino community as her children, died on a night when the power went out because of the heat and a long absence of medication.

Her death was like a symbol of the waning of the old times for all Latino immigrants. Nina’s father’s vehicle dispatching company has also become unsustainable; the perennial shaved ice stand vendors are sidelined by large ice cream fast food trucks; the dry cleaners are priced at eye-wateringly high prices. It’s as if all the details of life are changing to tell these Latino immigrants that it’s time to make the choice to stay or leave.

At the end of the film, Nina and Benny rekindle their old relationship, but Nina wants to use what she has learned to find a way for the children of the community to go to school; and Usnawi, who was going to leave the community and head to Dominican Beach to run her father’s former bar and regroup, stays in the area and continues to open a grocery store for the convenience of her old neighbors, after Vanessa’s earnest plea.

In the Heights” does not have the same core as a mainstream song and dance film. The series “Dancing Youth” and “Dancing My Life”, known to most of the post-80s and 90s, are more about the joyful stories of the youthful campus or the anecdotes of dance fights between professional dancers, and tend to bring out the spirit, joy and excitement of a song and dance film.

In contrast, “In the Heights” is actually about the dying of a community, and the core is tragic.

From the opening scene to the end, a countdown timer keeps reminding the audience that “X days before the blackout, the temperature is XX degrees Celsius”. This subtitle actually serves two purposes, the first is to create a sense of anxiety generated by the heat.

Second, you see Usnawi missing his old friends in the Latino community, but also longing for the Dominican beaches; you see Nina depressed after dropping out of Stanford, and even more disoriented in the face of her father and deceased friends.

Everyone is preoccupied with preserving the Latino carnival tradition of singing and dancing in the heat of the streets; but the reality of the dilemma tells them that powerlessness is an inevitable post-party problem. In other words, the heat is no longer a visual data or a moody feeling of the weather, but the oppression of minority survival by the whole American society.

Nina’s father keeps selling his company’s store; the new dry cleaners charge a lot just for cleaning handkerchiefs and gloves; the vendors who walk the streets all year round and sell shaved ice and cold drinks have to face capital dumping. These encounters are telling us that the generation of Latino immigrants who once came to the United States to pursue their dreams have been unable to find the soil to continue to take root here.

The film uses the countdown “X days before the blackout” to keep the narrative level of suspense, but also to foreshadow the coming tragedy.

On this day, Usnavi and Vanessa’s first date goes badly, and the community grandmother Claudia dies suddenly. The film uses such a countdown overlaid with the disillusionment of love and the death of an old man to make the audience feel like they are in a collapsing ruin of the old days, a sense of collapse that any film fan with a sense of hometown should be able to feel.

The repeal of the “Childhood Arrival Deferral” program, symbolizing the rise of conservatism in the Trump era, has made it impossible for immigrants who once harbored the “American Dream” to return to the past.

But is the past really enviable? Grandma Claudia’s fantasy song and dance before her death recreates the slave-like situation of Latino laundry workers. The so-called “American Dream” is just like the green light in “The Great Gatsby”, full of disillusionment.

However, “In the Heights” is not bitter, which makes it qualitatively different from “Les Miserables”.

The opening 15 minutes of the film are particularly good. Through an introduction by Usnawi in the grocery store, his own work routine, the joys and sorrows of the residents of the Latin community, and the personalities of the main characters are gradually revealed in front of him with subtle and amusing dance steps and rap lyrics.

In the Highlands, particular attention is paid to the rhythm of the dance and the way the lyrics are sung. For example, Usnawi is good at lively and relaxed R&B, Benny is flirting with the usual black rap, Nina tells the plight with soothing pop music, while Vanessa renders indignation with a restless turn of tune. Dance design, scene elaboration, all highlighting the inner changes of each character. The fast-paced editing in the opening scene, along with the splendid scenery of the neighborhood, is designed to allow the audience to enter into the secular life of this community.

And the swimming pool bridge, with its residents in summer swimsuits and elaborate and glamorous water activities. The choreography here is borrowed from the 1933 film “Hua Qing Chun Wen” to create a scene that is both eye-catching and shows everyone’s inner apprehension about whether they will win the lottery.

The climax of the film, there is a bright surrealist design. When Benny and Nina two people say goodbye, about to separate, in the sunset balcony snuggle. At this point, the two magically dance on the wall in a delicate manner, reminiscent of Nolan’s “Inception” in the hotel corridor in the scene of awkward Joseph wrestling.

Although “In the Heights” in the theme of exploration and the form of no cliché, song and dance scenes are also high standard, however, because the film is focused on the marginal life of Latino immigrants, making it is not a very wide audience, if this group replaced by the black community, may be able to get a different response.