In the Heights, the musical by Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda, is bringing people back to the movie theater after the covid slump with its exciting music and dancing. If you haven’t already, I would suggest you join the fun and go see the movie. Do so before reading this review as it does contain spoilers.

The excitement of the movie matches the busyness of the city. The dancing fills the streets, and even when the dance numbers are smaller, the movie still makes them engaging. For example, during their duet, Nina and Benny dance on the side of a building, defying gravity. The music is fun too, but it too closely resembles Hamilton, so much so that when I first saw the trailer, I thought the movie was reusing Hamilton’s music. Despite this flaw, the music is fun to listen to and its upbeat raps fit in with the tone of the movie.

The movie is more than just fun; it tells a heartfelt story about home, specifically through the characters of Usnavi and Nina. Usnavi, the main character of the story, does not see Washington Heights as his home. He longs to return to the Dominican Republic where he grew up. Every morning after waking up in Washington Heights, he turns at the old photos from his childhood and says, “Best days of my life.” He believes by returning to the Dominican Republic, he can recreate the same joy he experienced there as a child.

Nostalgia drives Usnavi, and he follows it, unaware of its tendency to deceive. Nostalgia exaggerates the happiness of the past and blinds him to the good things in front of him. Usnavi is willing to leave the only family he has left, his girlfriend Vanessa, and his community in order to return to his homeland. He books his flight with the misunderstanding that he will be able to duplicate the past. However, things have changed—he is grown now and his parents are dead. Since the current Dominican Republic will not match his memory of it, it will disappoint. He might enjoy living there if he could embrace its differences, but Usnavi is stuck in the past. If only he could move on he would be able to appreciate not only the Dominican Republic, but also the home Washington Heights has become for him. If Usnavi continues to chase paradise, he will never find it, but if he makes the best of what he already has, he will come as close to paradise as he can.

Nina, Usnavi’s friend, is known in the Washington Heights community as the one who has been able to escape the poverty of Washington Heights and go to Stanford. But after her freshman year, feeling out of place and missing home, she decides to drop out. Nina shares the same problem as Usnavi—a too strong attachment to her past life. However, unlike Usnavi, she wants to stay in Washington Heights whereas he wants to get away. Another difference is that Usnavi has found a community in Washington Heights, while Nina has not found a community in Stanford and may never find it. But that doesn’t mean she should retreat to her former life.

At the end of the movie, both Nina and Usnavi learn to stop chasing the past. Usnavi decides to stay in Washington Heights when Vanessa and her friend Graffiti Pete’s art reminds him how special the people here are. He realizes the slim possibility of bliss in the Dominican republic is not worth giving up his true home for. Nina talks to Sonny, Usnavi’s cousin, and learns he longs to follow in Nina’s footsteps and go to college. This makes Nina appreciate her education, despite its hardships. She plans to return to Stanford, this time, not as an escape from Washington Heights and its poverty, but with the intention to return and help the underprivileged kids like herself get access to a good education. This way she moves forward while not abandoning her community at home.

In the Heights is worth the watch. While it doesn’t do anything particularly new, it is fun and teaches a timeless message about home. So do yourself and your local theater a favor and go to see this movie.


Photo by jurvetson