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Victoria Reviews “In the Heights”

Written by: Victoria Alexander | June 8th, 2021

Broadway behemoth Hamilton must have been a fluke. This is a musical without songs. And the overwrought, over-long “showstopper” is by grandma.

Actor Anthony Ramos photographed by Ruven Afanador
Actor Anthony Ramos photographed by Ruven Afanador

All I knew about In the Heights was the sexy cover and adoring piece on “multi-talented, breakout star, Anthony Ramos,” in The Hollywood Reporter. The headline is: “A Star for a Whole Generation of People”: Anthony Ramos’ Long Journey to ‘In the Heights’ and How He Embraces the “Superpower” of Being a Latino Actor. Hollywood is betting that the multihyphenate has the star appeal to catapult Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jon M. Chu’s musical into one of the first post-pandemic hits.”

From reading THR’s glowing article on Ramos, I was sure there would be terrific dance numbers featuring Ramos. Nope. He hardly dances, does not have a signature “song” and is not photographed as a heart-stopping leading man. Ramos is directed without a leading character’s edge and he is denied a strong star-making role. The other cast members easily outrank him in charisma.

Ramos’ photographer in THR brings out his magnetic sensuality. Perhaps he did not get along with the director, Jon M. Chu?

We are all terrified of saying anything negative about everything and with our sensitivities regarding diversity in America, how could I be honest in my review without becoming “The Villainous Critic”?

Well, here goes my condemnation. 

Film Poster: IN THE HEIGHTS
Film Poster: IN THE HEIGHTS

IN THE HEIGHTS opens with Usnavi (Ramos) telling the story about his beginnings in a Washington Heights bodega to a group of sassy children on a tropical island beach. We now watch the long movie knowing Usnavi has succeeded in leaving the Heights and has followed his dream to return to his heritage in the Dominican Republic.

With the overwhelming success of Hamilton, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda swept through Hollywood appearing on sitcoms, comedy shows, SNL, Mary Poppins Returns, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Sesame Street. 

In the off-Broadway production, Miranda played Usnavi. Moving to Broadway, In the Heights won 4 Tony Awards, including best musical and best original score for Miranda.

Every big Broadway musical must have one or sometimes 2 or more (“Phantom of the Opera”) showstoppers. Many of them you know well, such as: “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (“Dreamgirls”), “America” (“West Side Story”), “Big Spender” (“Chicago”), Cabaret (“Cabaret”), and The Music of the Night and the Phantom theme (“Phantom of the Opera”). 

No “song” in IN THE HEIGHTS is memorable and not one “song” is a song you can leave the movie singing or even remembering. The music is atonal.

Here, Miranda inserts himself in a meaningless role as the neighborhood frozen ice in a cup vender. He is angry Mister Softee is ruining his business – damn those corporate thieves – but he does not take a match to the truck. He jumps on top of it and dances a little.

The main storyline is Usnavi longs to return to the Dominican Republic. He has a fear of even approaching Vanessa (Melissa Barrera Martinez), a hairdresser who wants to be a fashion designer. She has ambition. The heart and soul of IN THE HEIGHTS is Usnavi’s adopted Cuban grandmother, Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) who the entire community worships. She has a very large part and the musical’s biggest, loudest and longest “song.” She is heavy-set (I’m not fat-shaming), wearing a muumuu and walking around train stations hunched over. A chorus of worshipful angel-seamstresses follow her.

Usnavi helps his teenage cousin, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV). Sonny’s father is played by Marc Anthony, the only terrific thing in IN THE HEIGHTS.

I am not sure that the warning of a city-wide blackout foreshadows anything suggesting a drama. Electricity went out everywhere. No one intentionally targeted Washington Heights. But depression over no lights causes a malaise in the whole neighborhood.

Because racial diversity and harmony is at the root of the movie, a black dispatch worker at a cab company, Benny (Corey Hawkins), works for Kevin (Jimmy Smits). Benny is in love with hot Nina (Leslie Grace), Kevin’s daughter. Nina has returned from Stanford University and there is a big tuition payment due. Financial Aid is not on the table and dad Kevin cannot pay for the upcoming semester.

Then someone wins a $96,000 lottery purchased at Usnavi’s store. All across the U.S., the venue that sells a winning lottery ticket gets something. The Washington Heights residents buy Lottery tickets at Usnavi’s grocery store.

Film Image: IN THE HEIGHTS
Film Image: IN THE HEIGHTS

Lottery retailers earn 5.5% on each ticket sale and up to 1.5% on cashing winning tickets, for an average of 6.2%. The average Lottery retailer sells $250,000 in Lottery products earning approximately $15,000 a year in commissions.

California currently offers the biggest retailer bonus. Powerball sellers can earn a reward of up to $1 million. The last time a retailer received this sum was for the record-breaking $1.5 billion draw on January 13th, 2016, where three lucky ticket holders made history taking a pre-tax annuity total of $528.8 million each. One of the tickets was sold in Chino Hills, California, at a 7-Eleven. The 7-Eleven store received the seven-figure bonus for selling the ticket.

Apparently, Miranda does not know this. If the winning ticket holder claims the prize, Usnavi gets a commission as well as selling all those losing tickets. Guess who brought the winning ticket?

I enjoyed the TV series VIDA with Martinez playing the sexually liberated Lyn in the Starz series from 2018-2020. All the women are sexually fluid and lovemaking with men and women are shown. In Season 1, the second episode shows Lyn giving her man a rim job and then her willingness in exploring his receiving anal sex. VIDA was the most provocative show that needs to return. Gay sex never looked so good. Also, in the cast is Dascha Polanco, from ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK.

Film Image: IN THE HEIGHTS
Film Image: IN THE HEIGHTS

The laziness of the IN THE HEIGHTS production shows in the unfocused cast, the non-wardrobe (Usnavi only had one shirt), the dancing was poorly done and the music is accompanied by yelling.

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Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com. For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/victoria-alexander/movies. Victoria Alexander contributes to Films in Review (http://www.filmsinreview.com), Film Festival Today (http://filmfestivaltoday.com) and Las Vegas Informer (LVInformer.com).

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19 thoughts on “Victoria Reviews “In the Heights”

  1. Usnavi wears a tank top in the 96000 song. He has a grey Nuevo York shirt towards the end, he has a black tank top in the opening/closing scenes of the film, He has a maroon button up in the blackout scene, he wears a two tone shirt in the tide pen scene, he wears a traditional Latin Guayabera shirt during the film.

    Also, the lottery in the film
    Is supposed to be the street lottery. The numbers game, which is run by the mob in poor neighborhoods. It’s not supposed to be the state lotto. That’s why the winnings to these poor folks seems astronomical.

    The last person to talk about lazy is the dullard who wrote this review.

    One shirt. GTFOH.

  2. Well, if you’re going to be wrong, be loud wrong! First, your characterization of the ending is simply not accurate; did you stay until the end?!? Seriously— how can you get the ending wrong (while criticizing it)? Atonal songs? Yes, clearly this song has had a long and beloved run on Broadway with bad music. Your proactive attempt to head-off criticism of your ridiculous take on this movie is transparent and laughable: “If you hate my review, it is because one can’t criticize anything in fear of the diversity police”

    96% of critics and audience liked this movie. Then there’s you.

  3. Wow your review is actually crap. Atonal? Did we watch the same movie. I have a degree in vocal pedagogy and this is far from atonal. I loved the movie and the vocals.

  4. It’s not just about a blackout causing people to go without lights. It’s people in a low income neighborhood being forced to go without POWER. Meaning mid summer, people are going with no AC, no fans. The last major blackout during a summer in NYC, many people died of overheat. There are many references to the struggle of being a poor person of color living in NYC. You completely missed the point. And MANY people left humming the music. This is the ranting of someone bitter who can’t see what is joyful about seeing people realize that there are things to be happy about despite this country’s effort to bring them down.

  5. Gurl what is your damage? Your insight is particularly spotted and you’re nitpicking is painfully obvious. “Why is everyone so upset the power is out?” Because it’s hot? “Why does this old woman (who you have to call “heavyset” before clarifying you’re not fat-shaming when that’s clearly what you’re doing) have the longest song? She doesn’t and she’s a matriarch?
    You nitpick the rest, ignore what is clearly suspension of disbelief (in a MUSICAL of all things) and then review something entirely different while never explaining why you think these songs don’t count as songs.
    Maybe do that, and also try a little harder to understand Hispanic culture. Your review comes off as heavily ignorant and quite frankly a pretty hateful in several aspects. So with all due respect, try harder. Geez.
    P.s. just re-iterating the plot isn’t a review.

  6. I wasn’t wowed by this movie, either, but your review is so misshapen, so absurdly tangential, it borders on parody. You devoted more than one paragraph to Lotto minutia, you discussed a rim job from a TV show (which has nothing to do with the movie at hand). Are you serious? I’d say stick a fork in you but you’re already done.

  7. Somebody who writes the music of in the heights is ‘atonal’ is definitely not to be taken serious as a critic. Victoria Alexander is obviously trying to use interesting words, but doesn’t know the meaning of it.

    Also not recognizing showstoppers as the opening number an 96.000 makes it obvious that miss Alexander doesn´t understand a lot about music.

    (I know what I am talking about, i studied music at the Conservatorium of Amsterdam. I apologize for mistakes in using the English language, I’m from Holland)

  8. I totally agree with your review, not matter how unpopular.
    Hamilton worked because it was unique. That same rap/musical
    concept does not work here.

  9. Big Spender is actually from Sweet Charity, but you’re the expert so… go off I guess.

  10. Are you blind and deaf?
    Your last line is that Usnavi only has one shirt. In the photo’s on this page alone you can see he has several.
    You talk about the music being atonal. That is just factually wrong (nothing to do with an opinion, it is written in tonal keys, as everybody that understands music can tell you).
    And ‘in the heights’ doesn’t have the right songs?? Really? the multiple-tony-show hasn’t got the right music?

    It is so obvious that you don’t understand anything about music. Maybe you know what you’re talking about in other genres, but please, never pretend to be a serious film-critic for musicals anymore.

  11. If you’re going to write a review about a musical, and your biggest complaint is that it isn’t a musical, you’d better know your stuff about the musicals you compare it to. Big Spender isn’t from Chicago. Minor gripe but don’t bring it up if you aren’t gonna at least Google it.
    Also weird, unnecessary detour into where you recognize a single actress from. This review is unfocused, not well researched, mean spirited, and not particularly interesting.

  12. Wow! Take off your crabby pandemic pants and watch this movie again when your in a better mood! Get up and dance.

  13. Pretty racist perspective about the music ngl. Miranda reinvented what musical songs could be by incorporating new styles like latin, r&b, rap, and hip hop. Just because the music doesn’t match your idea of the perfect white musical show tunes doesn’t mean it isn’t good. “In The Heights” “96,000” and “blackout” are plenty showstopping for the majority of us.

  14. I don’t think anyone minds a contrarian review WHEN IT IS ACCURATE.
    This is…not that. I am not Miranda sycophant, and I think every film, musical or otherwise, has its flaws. But it’s pretty clear that Ms. Alexander did not actually watch this film, or that if she did so, paid so little attention to it that her “review” is worthless. Setting aside subjective jabs claiming the music is “atonal,” she is factually wrong about the main plot, characters’ identities, their narrative function, and even costuming. She also mistakes her limited personal preferences for objective ‘rules’ of musical theater, but that’s well after she’s already embarrassed herself with simple inaccuracies.

    A negative review can be justified. But this…this was just a lazy, stupid effort. Be better.

  15. Woa! Not sure what movie you watched, but I stopped reading your review when you said you left the movie without singing a single song.

    Either you don’t speak Spanish or you know lo thing about the Latin American culture. If you were not appealed by Carnaval del Barrio or Alabanza I must say that your musical taste is questionable, or again, maybe not knowing anything about the cultural features, musical included, presented in the movie.

    Alza la bandera, la bandera dominicana
    Alza la bandera, la bandera puertorriqueña
    Alza la bandera, la bandera mexicana
    Alza la bandera, la bandera cubana.

  16. You Are in the he minority is it the greatest musical ever no ,but it’s way better than you give it credit for,as a fellow Vegas resident it’s you opinion but you are wrong.

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