In the Heights
By Sandie Angulo Chen,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Joyous, touching musical has some innuendo, language.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Emphasizes importance of community, teamwork, compassion, empathy, perseverance. Talks about how dreams can be a place or a person and can signify community and success -- whether that success is academic, entrepreneurial, or personal. The musical is staunchly pro-immigration and, like Hamilton, explores how "immigrants get the job done" and advocates for why America should be proud of its immigrants.
Positive Role Models
Characters share resources and opportunities and help, encourage, and support one another in various practical and emotional ways. People make mistakes, but they learn from them.
The cast is filled with Latino characters who have come to live in America from various places: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, etc. But movie has faced criticism around colorism given its lack of Afro-Latino characters in setting of Washington Heights, which has a large Afro-Dominican population. Celebrates working-class individuals, immigrants, community elders. Women have backstories but are seen through a male lens, with Vanessa in particular pursued by a lovesick Usnavi, whose friends egg him on. A same-sex couple appears in minor, blink-and-you-miss-it scenes.
Inclusion information: Latinx actors, Black actors
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Violence & Scariness
A beloved character dies peacefully; their body is visible but looks as if sleeping. Characters mourn the loss. During the blackout, everyone rushes out of a club -- pushing and trying to get out and find their friends. A couple of characters look worried and panicky. A character talks about being racially profiled and searched as a burglary suspect.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A couple of kisses, flirting. Many longing looks. Innuendoes ("he's got a big ... taxi!") and a few salty references. Discussion of Usnavi's crush on Vanessa. Gossipy hairstylists make it seem like Usnavi had "hooked up" with someone else, but they're just feeling out Vanessa's reaction. References to Benny and Nina's romantic relationship, and them reuniting/spending the night together. Some sensual dancing.
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Language includes "s--t," "damn," "goddamn," "hell," "caramba," "s--tty," "shake your ass," "skank."
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Products & Purchases
Lots of brands visible in the bodega: Utz chips, Maria's cookies, El Pilon coffee, Lipton tea, Coca-Cola. A character wears Beats by Dre headphones.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults at a club drink in the background. There's a bar in the club, and Usnavi talks about his father's bar. Characters have a cold beer together in the heat. It's implied that Sonny's dad has an alcohol dependency.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that In the Heights is director Jon M. Chu's joyous stage-to-screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes' Tony Award-winning Broadway musical about a group of neighbors who live in the same predominantly Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. Regular Miranda collaborator Anthony Ramos stars as Usnavi, a bodega owner whose shop sells a lottery-winning ticket and who introduces viewers to his friends on the block. The film chronicles the lives of hardworking, striving Latino and Black people and immigrants who dream big, navigating the odds to persevere and build a strong, supportive community. Language isn't frequent but delves into salty territory ("s--t," "ass," "goddamn," "skank," etc.). There are a couple of romances that include kisses and references to spending the night together, some wink-wink references ("he's got a big ... taxi!"), and social drinking by adults (as well as one character who's implied to have an alcohol dependency). A beloved character dies peacefully, and many others mourn the loss. Families who love Hamilton and Miranda's work will want to see his first tribute to the idea that "immigrants get the job done."
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In the Heights
Based on 12 parent reviews
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What's the Story?
IN THE HEIGHTS is the big-screen version of Lin-Manuel Miranda's first Tony Award-winning musical, which tells the story of a group of friends living in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. It's structured as a flashback, with bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) telling a bunch of kids about the corner where he lived and ran his store. On the hottest day of the summer, he decides to close his bodega and buy the place on the beach where he and his late father spent the "best days of his life" in the Dominican Republic. Then he finds out that someone has bought a $96,000-winning lottery ticket at his store, and everyone starts to wonder about what they'd do with the money. Usnavi's friends and neighbors include Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega), whose beauty salon is about to move to the Bronx because of gentrification, and Benny (Corey Hawkins), who works as a car-service dispatcher and eagerly awaits the arrival of his boss's (Jimmy Smits) daughter, Nina (Leslie Grace), who just finished her first year at Stanford. There's also Usnavi's lifelong crush, Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), a stylist at Daniela's who dreams of moving to the West Village and working in the fashion industry, and Cuban American matriarch Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz, reprising her Broadway role), who cooks for and looks after everyone, especially Usnavi and his younger cousin, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV). Miranda appears as the local piragua seller, who walks around peddling the flavored shaved ice from a cart.
Is It Any Good?
Director Jon M. Chu's adaptation of Miranda's first deeply personal Broadway musical is a jubilant, powerful tribute to the robust lives, loves, and dreams of a beloved neighborhood. Hamilton veteran Ramos is brilliantly cast as Usnavi (a role Miranda originated on Broadway), who's torn between fulfilling his father's dreams in the Dominican Republic and continuing to build a life in the United States. The entire ensemble is wonderful, from the young Diaz as Usnavi's clever cousin to the gorgeous, talented Barrera as Vanessa. Hawkins and Grace share a striking chemistry as former couple with lingering feelings Benny and Nina; Grace, in particular, authentically conveys the struggles of first-generation college students who attend elite institutions. Nina's first song, "Breathe," is a touching commentary on the burden of being the "star" who's supposed to make it big. The cast benefits tremendously from the presence of Merediz as Abuela Claudia, a character it's difficult to imagine anyone else playing. And the trio of beauty salon stylists (Rubin-Vega, Brooklyn 99 star Stephanie Beatriz, and Orange Is the New Black's Dascha Polanco) are hilarious as the musical's gossipy chorus.
Hamilfans will happily recognize LMM's signature style in all of the songs: They're boisterous, moving, and crowd-pleasingly catchy. "96,000" is an amusing reverie on the myriad ways the characters would spend the loot, and "Paciencia and Fe" is Abuela Claudia's beautiful personal narrative about her mother's favorite saying ("patience and faith"). Marc Anthony, who has a small but pivotal role as Sonny's father/Usnavi's uncle, lends his voice for the soundtrack's original track, "Home All Summer," which plays over the credits. In the same way that Chu's book-to-screen adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians amplified and elevated the talents of East Asian (and diaspora) characters/actors, In the Heights revolves around New York City's Latino population, albeit with a focus on light-skinned Latinos despite Washington Heights' large Afro-Latino population. Usnavi is Dominican, the Rosarios are Puerto Rican, Abuela Claudia is Cuban, and the rest of the characters represent various Latin American cultures. The "Carnaval del Barrio" number -- which is reminiscent of West Side Story's "America" -- is a triumphant reminder of the neighborhood's working-class immigrants united in a new homeland.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the popularity of Lin-Manuel Miranda's musicals, and why Hamilton and In the Heights seem to strike a chord with large audiences -- even those who often aren't into musicals.
Discuss Nina's experiences with prejudice and racism at college. How did those incidents affect her? How can you combat racism when you are confronted with it?
Which characters are role models in the musical? Which character strengths do they demonstrate?
Talk about how the musical addresses immigration and the idea of the American Dream. In what ways is the musical a tribute to Spanish-speaking immigrants who settle in New York City?
In real life, the Washington Heights neighborhood has a large Afro-Latino population. Is that fact reflected in the film?
- In theaters: June 10, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: June 10, 2021
- Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Melissa Barrera, Jimmy Smits, Lin-Manuel Miranda
- Director: Jon M. Chu
- Inclusion Information: Latinx actors, Black actors
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Musical
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Character Strengths: Empathy, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 143 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some language and suggestive references
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: April 4, 2023
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