In the Heights Parent Guide
This is a fiesta of a film - energetic, colorful, vibrant, and joyful.
Parent Movie Review
Everyone, Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) assures us, has a sueñito – a little dream. The open-faced young man runs a bodega in the Washington Heights neighborhood of northern Manhattan, but he dreams of returning to his birthplace in the Dominican Republic and rebuilding his late father’s bar. In the meantime, he saves his money and tries to find the courage to ask Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), an aspiring fashion designer, out on a date.
Vanessa’s friend Nina (Leslie Grace) has her own challenges, struggling as her big plans meet harsh realities. A brilliant student, Nina’s first year at Stanford felt like a lonely exile, marked by cultural isolation and casual racism. Finally back in Washington Heights, she doesn’t want to leave again, but her father (Jimmy Smits) can’t bear to give up his dreams for her. And the dispatcher of his cab company, Benny (Corey Hawkins), is overjoyed to see his past girlfriend return home.
Adapted from the smash Broadway hit by Lin-Manuel Miranda, In the Heights will please fans of Hamilton and other works featuring the musician’s syncopated verbal beats and memorable melodies. This is a fiesta of a film – energetic, vibrant, sun-drenched and jubilant and it will have audiences dancing in their seats. (This presents a difficult choice: Watch in theaters with a big screen and restrict your dancing to your seat or watch at home on a smaller screen with the ability to dance around the room?) Overall, the movie is a colorful celebration of life, love, community, and Latino culture.
Although it’s a joyful production, In the Heights doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. Not surprisingly, it addresses the issues of undocumented immigrants with a focus on dreamers. It examines the wounds inflicted by racism and how racist policies and attitudes stifle human potential. The plot also takes on gentrification, depicting the wounds to a community when rising rents scatter its businesses. The most interesting part of the film is its nuanced look at identity as the characters struggle to define themselves as Americans and as Dominicans or Cubans or Puerto Ricans. Trying to absorb and synthesize the divergent parts of their cultural and genetic legacies is work that takes time, thought, and deliberation but which delivers rich rewards.
Mixed in with the film’s fun is some unfortunate (and unnecessary) negative content. There are three dozen profanities, but the bigger problem is the amount of sexual innuendo. There are several conversations about “who’s sleeping with who” and some scenes of sexually suggestive dancing. There is also a coded conversation about the size of a man’s genitals. Another downside is the movie’s absurdly long runtime: it clocks in at almost two and a half hours. If you’re watching it in theaters, don’t order that super-size soda unless you’re sure you won’t need a pitstop.
Negatives aside, In the Heights has a lot to offer families. It has strong themes of self-reliance, generosity, sacrifice, commitment, love, community, self-esteem, and cultural pride. Parents will be happy to have their teens watch Usnavi, Vanessa, Nina, and Benny struggle to achieve their goals. And they will also appreciate the constant counsel of Usnavi’s adopted abuela (Olga Merediz) – paciencie y fe – have patience and faith. For teens (and adults) trying to reach their sueñitos, these are valuable traits.Directed by Jon M Chu. Starring Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Jimmy Smits, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Corey Hawkins, Stephanie Beatriz. Running time: 143 minutes. Theatrical release June 11, 2021. Updated October 2, 2021
Watch the trailer for In the Heights
In the Heights
Rating & Content Info
Why is In the Heights rated PG-13? In the Heights is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for some language and suggestive references
Violence: There is brief mention of slavery, genocide, and dictatorships. A man throws water at a business rival. A major character dies of natural causes.
Sexual Content: There are scenes people dancing in a sexually suggestive manner. Frequent conversations regarding the sexual relationships of different people. Strong innuendo about the size of a man’s genitals. Speculation about a potential unwed pregnancy. There is reference to condoms. Mention of a woman finding a man in bed with another man. Someone says a room smelled like “sex and cheap perfume”. An entire scene is shot at the pool with the cast in swimwear, including bikinis. Two women are briefly seen waking up together. Two women dance together. A man and woman kiss.
Profanity: There are over three dozen profanities, with a third of them being scatological terms. There are just under a dozen terms of deity as well as a smattering of minor curse words and crude anatomical expressions.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A man drinks beer while surrounded by empty bottles. Adults drink beer with dinner. Main characters drink shots at a bar.
Page last updated October 2, 2021
In the Heights Parents' Guide
The characters in this movie are proud of their Hispanic roots. What are your family’s roots? If you are interested in learning more about your family history, you can search some of these well known genealogy websites:
Nina experiences racism while away at university. What happened to her? How did those experiences affect her? How did they affect her feelings about her ethnic heritage and her place in American society? For more information about racism, particularly as it affects Hispanics in America, and what we can do to eliminate it, check these links:
Pew Research Center: Latinos and discrimination
The Washington Post: A history of anti-Hispanic bigotry in the United States
Related home video titles:
If you can’t get enough of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s distinctive music, make sure to check out Hamilton, his smash hit musical take on American history. The multi-talented Miranda is also an actor, playing the piragua man in In the Heights, and the lamplighter in Mary Poppins Returns.
The challenges faced by dreamers are central to the plot of The Sun is Also a Star, in which a young couple falls in love the day before one of them is due to be deported.
One of the best loved movie musicals is Fiddler on the Roof, another story of family, community, and adversity – this one set in Russia.