Adaptations: “In the Heights”


Aubrianna Martinez, Senior Digital Editor

Lin Manuel Miranda’s breakout musical “In the Heights” which debuted on Broadway in 2008 was finally adapted to film and slated for release in the summer of 2021. Due to the pandemic’s closure of theaters and other businesses, the movie was given a hybrid release by the Warner Brother studio, meaning it was released in theaters for theaters that were still open for business, but it was also free to watch on HBO Max for those who have a subscription, and stayed on the platform for 30 days.

The movie adaptation of “In the Heights” is easily identifiable as quite different from the Broadway musical, which fans of the musical knew it would be. Miranda explained early in the process of filming that the original theme of gentrification was still relevant, but the time to portray it as a looming beast as opposed to an unfortunate fact of life had passed.

Instead, the film tackles both the problems of old that it did in its musical, as well as tried but failed to say something new or nuanced about other issues as well, such as DREAMers. The movie rewrites certain characters’ B plots messily, leaving the audience unsatisfied with the story that does not contain itself very well.

Director Jon M. Chu of “Crazy Rich Asians” and the “Step-Up” sequels fame creates gorgeous and mesmerizing dance sequences that are extremely enjoyable to watch ie the dance club fiery choreography and the over the top pool dance scene set to “96,000” that pulls the audience’s attention every which way for an ensemble song, yet he also almost randomly switches to using a surrealist style that takes one out of the film they are enjoying, such as the visuals he uses for Vanessa’s dreams of being a fashion designer, or the playful sequence between Nina and Benny on the fire escape. 

The movie also makes adaptational choices that suit it well. The reorganization of Abuela Claudia’s story is even more heart-wrenching than before, and the rivalry between the piragua seller and the name-brand shaved ice seller makes for a humorous runner throughout the movie, and a hilarious after-credits stinger.