In the Heights

Listen to this episode

S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: How are you doing right now? I see. Charlotte traded me

S3: for. I am for. What’s in the box? Yo, yo, yo.

S4: Hi, I’m Dana Stevens, Slate’s movie critic, and we are here with another Slate spoiler special podcast. And today we’re talking about In The Heights, the new adaptation of the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical from 2008, directed by John MTU. Joining me to talk about in the Heights are Marissa Martinelli associate editor at Slate and Sofia Andrade, Slate’s new editorial intern. Hello, Marissa. Sophia, thanks for coming on.


S2: Hi, Dana.

S1: Hi. Thanks so much for having us.

S4: I am curious before we get started about you guys history with this musical. I wonder if you already knew the cast album or maybe you had seen the show. Were you looking forward to this movie as a new thing or was it something that you already knew a lot about? I think in your case, Marissa, you’re something of a Lin-Manuel Miranda head.

S2: Yes, I know it’s very cool to hate on Lin-Manuel Miranda and very easy to hate on Lin-Manuel Miranda because he is so very earnest. But I am a big fan and I was a big fan of In The Heights before Hamilton and before he was the Hamilton guy. He was the night sky.


S4: So you did see it on Broadway?

S2: I didn’t see it on Broadway. I was a teenager when it was on Broadway, but I did obsessively listen to the cast recording.


S4: Oh, good. I’m glad that you know the cast album well because I have some questions when we get into it about, you know, order of songs, songs that are missing, etc.. So you’ll be the one to consult on that. What about you, Sophia?

S1: Yeah, I am actually not a huge Broadway fan. I’m really not that much experience with Broadway as a space, but my family are also Lin-Manuel Miranda fanatics. So Hamilton, a couple of years after that, became a huge thing in my experience there. I love it now, but I have listened to the guys recording maybe a couple of times in the car. Never really felt too connected to it. I think, as Marissa said, Lin-Manuel Miranda feels easy to hate and it was a little bit going into it. I felt like it would be kind of kitschy and gimmicky, but than actually watching the movie version of it. I think a lot of those thoughts faded, but I was definitely hesitant going forward.


S4: I’m actually glad to have someone who’s not a musical person because I am a complete musical person and I’m not seeing the show on Broadway. But no, the cast album extremely well because my theater nerd kid listens to it all the time and was actually in a production of In the Heights. So I’ve seen the production on stage, but it was with middle schoolers and it was really good. Who did you play? She was just in the chorus. It was actually the middle school and high school mic. So the high schoolers got the big parts and she was one of the townspeople, basically, and dancers. But it’s such a stage show. I really think it’s just like Hamilton is going to be done by countless high schools and middle schools and various cuts through the years. And as for hating on Lin-Manuel Miranda, you’re not going to get any of that here. I think people listeners who want to have somebody who’s skeptical are going to have to turn this off right now because I find him just one of the most charming and endearing figures on the cultural scene right now. And I love that he makes a small appearance in this movie. And then it’s small. You know, it’s like a small and somewhat humble moment or a couple of moments that that he appears that I was very happy to see him. So I guess because, Sophia, you’re not a musical person. I’m going to start with you. One of the things I wondered in my review was, if you’re not a musical person, would this convert you? And my opinion was that it probably would not, because it is pretty earnest and corny. I mean, not only the music itself, but the way that is staged and shown, like you have to believe in that fundamental, sappy, schmaltzy musical idea that people would be able to burst into song on a normal day and all know the same dance steps. And in order to do that, I mean, a movie just has a very heavy lift to pull something like that off. And especially this kind of musical, which is not a sung through musical like Hamilton. There is dialogue, but it’s very dependent on the songs for storytelling. I mean, it isn’t sort of an old school Broadway musical where you get lots and lots of dialogue, setting up a story and then a few songs per act. It is basically, especially in the opening number, which we should talk about, I think is maybe the best part of the movie. It’s really almost a Hamilton style storytelling through song sort of situation. So I’m wondering, going in as somebody who is a bit musical skeptical, did you feel that it managed to pull off that heavy lift and bring you into a convincing world of singing citizens?


S1: I definitely do. I think a lot of that came with the fact that the movie was just so unapologetically jubilant. It was just bursting from the beginning of the film all the way towards the end. And you never really had a chance to question whether or not folks should be breaking into song. I think by the time and I’m sure we’ll get to it later by the time in the middle where it gets a little quiet, it feels weird that they’re not breaking the song. You’ve kind of been forced in the beginning from the first eight minutes to kind of just expect that that’s how the story is going to be told. And I think that the way that they just dive into it makes it really convincing. And I’ll also say that the reason I’m not a huge Broadway fan is because I haven’t really seen Broadway as a space where stories like the ones told in the Heights can be told. And although it was very cliche and a lot of the tropes were tried and it did feel in a lot of way like the narrative was simple and it just wrapped up in a really nice way. I did appreciate that. I saw stories of like Latin identity and all the trials and tribulations that come with being an immigrant in a way that. It didn’t really feel exploitative. It felt a lot more genuine in that way. So I think that’s why I appreciated it and I was more open to just giving myself over to the musical aspect of it kind of from the beginning.


S4: Right. Marissa. What about you? You’re already you go in as a musical person. How do you think this translated stage to screen?


S2: Well, I loved hearing Sofia’s opinion for that reason because at first I was a little bit nervous that the movie was apologizing for being a musical because it introduces this frame story where the main character, Snabe, played in this version by Anthony Ramos is telling the story of In the Heights to a group of children. And that seemed to me almost like a compensation for the direct address that the character has to the audience throughout the movie. So a little bit I was nervous. I was like, is this is this movie apologizing for being that kind of cheesy musical? And ultimately what that Framestore did was it made the movie even more cheesy, which I think was great.


S4: I mean, to me, the frame story was a big mistake, but it’s a small enough part of the movie that it still doesn’t wreck it. I just thought it was really unnecessary. In fact, almost everything involving small children in this movie ended up feeling unnecessary and schmaltzy. The frame story in which, as you say, it was navvies is on a beach apparently in the Dominican Republic, right at the bar that he’s dreamed of buying. The whole show is about him dreaming of being able to leave and go back to his country of origin. And he’s telling this story to this group of little kids. And I mean, first of all, there’s this kind of sentimentality in that that I think sweetens the show a degree, has one more packet of sugar than it needs. You know, it’s already a very sweet show, but also it’s sort of like a bait and switch, right. Because, in fact, we learn at the end that he’s not actually on a beach, that this is sort of his fantasy of what his story has become and that his dream throughout the show, which is to go back to the Dominican Republic, which he remembers in a sort of idealized way from his childhood, is something that he not gives up on at the end, but changes he changes his dream to decide to keep his bodega. And that’s sort of the point of the show. So somehow the idea to me that we were being dangl this tropical paradise and then told like the tropical paradise was there all along in his store, I don’t know. It was not only unnecessary, but it seemed like it sort of undercut the beauty of his deciding to stay. Do you see what I mean?


S2: I don’t disagree with you, but I did feel that as a fan of the musical, it was a more satisfying experience for me because there were actual stakes. Is he going to leave? I mean, ultimately, as soon as you see the little bright green crab, you’re like, you know, something’s up there, not really on the beach. This is either either child’s imagination or it’s some kind of dream or whatever it is. And there are elements of fantasy throughout the movie. So it really plays with that line. I don’t necessarily feel that the the kids were necessary, but I did like that one mysterious element for super fans to have something to wonder about.


S4: All right. Let’s get into some of the main stories. And to do that, maybe we could start with the opening number, which introduces all the major characters and gives most of them actually a chance to either sing or rap or come and show their presence in the in the store. So the opening number, after we get out of the frame story, which I find annoying, is in this bodega, the corner bodega that is navvies. Parents owned that they’ve left to him. And we learned during the song a bunch of things about him, that he is an orphan, that he lives with a woman that he calls a Claudia, though she’s not his actual grandmother, that he has a crush on a girl named Vanessa who comes into the store. The various neighborhood plot threads are set up. And we should go through a few of those side stories because this is a very packed cast. So we have Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, who’s this ambitious girl in the neighborhood that was Navy, has an unspoken crush on. She comes into the store early in in the show. There’s Sonny, his cousin, who is a teenager who helps him run the store and who he’s hoping to sort of pass it on in turn when he when he leaves the country. We have Benny, played by Corey Hawkins, who is a young man who works as a car dispatcher, comes into the store early on and introduces himself. And he’s actually going to be the main romantic lead. Even those navvies, the main character is sort of an interesting structure that he’s not it’s not really the a love story. Right. His love story with Vanessa is kind of the love story. The love story is going to be between Benny and Nina, who enters a little bit later, the neighborhood girl made good, who’s gone off to Stanford and is now coming back. We’ll get to her in a minute. And then we have Jimmy Smits of TV fame as Kevin Rosario, who is the owner of the car dispatching service. Am I missing anyone? We have the hair salon ladies who are a kind of Greek chorus of gossipy neighborhood women who keep us up on exposition throughout the story. But it’s a lot. And there’s probably 10 major characters who are introduced in this early song to keep track of.


S2: And that’s not even counting the characters has been cut. I mean, poor Mrs. Rosario, Kevin’s wife and Nina’s mother has been just lifted right out of this musical. And I didn’t miss. Her sorry, this is Rosario, but, you know, the the main tension between Nina and her father is that Nina’s father, Kevin, has given up everything to build this life for himself. That was different from what his father planned for him. And now his daughter is off at Stanford. But unbeknownst to him, she has actually dropped out of Stanford because she felt discriminated against. There have been several racist incidents. And so she’s coming home feeling like a failure and a fraud, and he doesn’t know that. And so there’s this pride that he keeps expressing in her that she feels that she has not earned because she has given up on her dream.


S4: Yeah, the Rosario story is, I think, one of the it’s one of the key stories in the show, I think, because it’s one of the few that looks outside of the neighborhood. I mean, almost all of the conflict that happens in this show happens within the neighborhood. There’s problems of gentrification, the hair salon having to change to a different neighborhood because their rent has risen. The question of whether certain people are going to get out of the neighborhood, including Vanessa, who wants to go downtown and become a fashion designer and is navvy, who, as we’ve discussed, wants to go back to the Dominican Republic. But Nina’s problems all have to do with this thing that we don’t see but that we just hear about. Right. Which is the discrimination that she’s experienced at this very white, very elitist school, Stanford, where she’s gone off to. So all we hear about is sort of her coming back from outside the neighborhood saying it’s not so great out there. Right. Like leaving the neighborhood is not going to solve all of your problems. And and she gets, I think, one of the best songs in the first act, which is her song about precisely that, her song about her shame in coming back to the neighborhood. So her song Breathe, which is kind of her I want no right from the first act of a musical is is, I think, one of the musical high points of the first act. And also, yeah, as I say, introduces this this kind of presence from the outside coming back home. But Marissa, you’re right, I didn’t really notice the absence of Mrs. Rozario either, maybe because she doesn’t get her own musical moment in the original show. But Mr. Rosario does. The owner of the car despatching service played by Jimmy Smits in the movie has I think one of the songs is one of the emotional climaxes of the show. Right. And his song, Initio, brings up another aspect of the immigrant experience that from the older generation that is kind of missing from the film, I think. Well, we do get a Boiler Claudio song, which we’ll talk about, but his song is neutral or useless is essentially about how hard he’s worked, how much he sacrificed to get his daughter to Stanford, and just his disappointment that she is not going on to be the first generation success that he had dreamed of her being. And that seems like a really important point of view. Also an incredibly important character moment for him. And I really missed that song. I wondered if it was because Jimmy Smits can’t sing that they didn’t put it in.


S5: It’s kind of a song that you could you could deliver well, whether you

S4: could sing Broadway style or not. So anyway, I thought that was a big mistake to have taken out. And it was one song I missed.

S2: I have the same feeling

S4: and also Marissa. As I understand, there is an element of the relationship between Benny and Nina. This what we were calling the a romance that has been completely scrubbed from the original musical. And I wonder if you could talk about that.

S2: It’s in the stage show the Rosario’s object to Benny and Nina’s romance because Benny is black, specifically because he’s not Latino. He works for Mr. Rosario, which also creates a weird power dynamic there. But because he’s not Latino, it’s basically indicated that he’ll never be accepted as part of the family. And the movie completely admits that. I would say that I I didn’t necessarily miss the racist father plotline. I think it makes Rosario much less sympathetic as a character. And I also feel like this movie is already grappling with so much in terms of gentrification on the neighborhood. It’s nice to have at least one romance where the characters have one obstacle, and that’s distance.

S1: I don’t know. I think at the same time, while I do appreciate that their relationship wasn’t muddled by another thing, I think in telling a story about leathernecks communities and especially in a story, the film makes a lot of effort to hire so many different folks of color. And you see Latinos and white Latinos and a whole different range of folks. And I think that acknowledging the race aspect would have been really helpful because in the show as well, Benny is not only a black character, he’s not Latino, but he’s also the only one that doesn’t speak Spanish and he’s coming from outside the neighborhood. And to acknowledge that facet of the immigrant experience, the fact that so many Latinos, people that are coming to the United States, are coming with their prejudices that they’re bringing from their own countries and with this anti blackness that is really steeped in that next culture and has been since the colonial era, I think would have been great, especially given just the racial reckoning that has been happening in this country. I would have appreciated to see that at least mentioned, especially in. In my understanding, it was such a big part of the Broadway show,


S4: there’s even jokes in the original show, right? I mean, he’s kind of being ribbed by the other people at the at the dispatch dispatch place for not speaking Spanish. So it takes just some of the rough edges out of the show, which I think if you could make a critique of this movie, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I should have set up top that it was the first movie I saw in theaters since the pandemic started. So for that alone, it gets like a 20 percent upgrade. It is so fun to see in the theater, especially on a hot summer day and you’re rejoining the world. But if I had a critique overall of this movie, I think that what you just said, Sofia, would be folded into it, which is that it’s so much sweetness and light that you’re almost kind of missing the obstacles or the rough edges or the things that that make life in the heights difficult as well as beautiful.

S2: I don’t know if I go that far. Dana there is a whole new plot line in this movie about what it’s like to be an undocumented immigrant. I mean, a character who in the original stage musical is basically comic relief. Sonny is really going through a lot in this movie. They’re putting him through the wringer. He’s undocumented. He has an alcoholic father. He is fighting for social justice and coming to the realization that he may not be able to go to college because of his undocumented status. I mean, that to me was a really smart choice because it gave us Navy a lot more responsibility to stay to the neighborhood as opposed to just this is my home. This is where I belong. I mean, he’s really not just remaining in one place. He’s fighting a new fight, which I thought was a really smart choice. But he really has character gets a major back story in a way that we really didn’t see on stage.


S1: I also really appreciated the undocumented storyline coming in, I think for the same reasons that I would have appreciated for the conflict between Rosario and Nina’s relationship with that need to be played up a little bit more because it doesn’t treat the Latino community as a perfect community. Nor does it feed into the romanticism that I often see in movies about Latin folks. Even just the fact that the movie wasn’t shot in an orange light was helpful to that. They just didn’t feel like it was romanticizing the community so much, even though it was a very happy, jubilant musical Marissa.

S4: Before we move on to some of the many storylines weaving through this movie, you had something to say about the hero, the character played by Lin-Manuel Miranda. You want to talk about him?

S2: I did. I think it is such a great casting choice and I really applaud Lin-Manuel Miranda for stepping back from the role of snobby. You don’t see that all the time. I mean, people recently were sort of making fun of the dear Evan Hansen trailer because Ben Platt is playing 16 year old Evan Hansen, a role that he also played on Broadway phenomenally. He’s twenty eight now. He’s a little old to be playing a teenager. As much as that’s the norm on Glee, he he looks twenty eight. I should say that I’m almost his age and I’m not a wrinkled old crone or anything, but I certainly couldn’t play sixteen. And so for Lin-Manuel Miranda to say I’m in my forties now, I’m not right for the role of snobby. Let me play the role of the Arguido, which is a very minor role, but also kind of an emblem of the neighborhood. He’s a recurring character. He keeps coming back throughout the plot. He has a fun little rivalry with the Mister Softee guy and the Mister Softee guy. The musical is played by the original Benny Christopher Jackson, which it’s fun to see them squabbling on screen. These two older men sort of passing the torch.


S4: Yeah, I completely agree. I love that he was the Peter Guido. It’s also it’s a tiny role, one of the sort of establishing ones in the show. Right. I mean, he rolls his card on at the very beginning of the first song. And so there’s kind of a sense of him giving the movie his blessing or sort of welcoming it into the world. There is also, if you have the patience to stay through the credits, a little stinger involving him and and Chris Jackson, who, as you said, is from the original cast, Bennie, from the original cast and of course, George Washington from the original cast of Hamilton.

S2: That’s right. A lot of Hamilton Nullum in this movie, including Anthony Ramos, who has taken over the role of Snabe. And I have to say, it is such a pleasure to see him as a leading man where he played sort of a supporting character in Hamilton. He had a tiny, tiny little part in a star is born. And he is so charismatic and really just has, like movie star good looks. I could look at his face all day.

S4: Totally agree. So if you are you are you with us on that? I think this casting is sensational. And it’s true that Anthony Ramos has been sort of a background guy who, you know, who he is, but he never has a lead at least, and stuff that I’ve seen. And he’s perfect. He does that perfect transition from you know, I could see him having done this on stage. You can see that he has that theater training. He can dance, he can move, he can sing, he can rap. But he also translates to the screen really well. And he doesn’t seem like a theater actor who’s being imprisoned in the frame.


S1: No, I agree. I thought he was. Fantastic from the very beginning. Anthony Ramos’s character is the one that takes us through this whole introduction with the titular song that Dana you were speaking up before that introduced all the characters. And I thought just the way he interacted, even with the camera, was phenomenal throughout this whole scene. And it really felt like he was drawing you into the movie in a way that didn’t feel kitschy. I also loved just any single moment where he was rapping. The songs are so good and he just brought so much energy to it that I really appreciate it. And that Marissa, as you said, I don’t think Lin-Manuel Miranda would have still been able to do just as well as Anthony Ramos did. So I appreciate that passing of the torch. Definitely.

S4: Well, also, the fact that he’s younger makes his ambition to to leave the bodega seem I mean, it would just seem a little bit more sad if somebody who had obviously been running the bodega for 20 years was dreaming of getting out of it. Right. I mean, it’s sort of it’s a Broadway romance. You kind of need to young people in those two roles of the ambitious, ambitious young couple starting their lives. Right. Speaking of veterans from the original show, Olga Milady’s, who played the same character in the original show, comes back as a boy like Claudia here. And I mean, I’m talking about how nice it is to see someone younger in the main role. But I really think that maybe the best musical number in the movie belongs to the oldest character in it, a boy like Claudia. But we will get there. I feel like we ourselves are stuck in the opening number of in the heights where we are taking all this time to establish the various plot threads. And we’re still only 10 minutes into the movie or something. So I’m going to pick up on one of the big ones, which is the lottery ticket you see actually in the very first song, as everybody’s whirling in and out of the bodega introducing themselves, you see a boy like Claudia come in and buy a lotto ticket and this lotto ticket becomes something that drives the plot for the rest of the movie, even though we only hear about it a few more times, because, as it turns out, she has a winning lottery ticket, but she doesn’t find that out. Well, we’ll find out when she finds it out. We’ll get there. But it takes a while for the winning lottery ticket to get claimed. And that becomes an excuse for one of the big first big production numbers in the movie, ninety six thousand, which is the amount of money riding on this this winning lottery ticket from the bodega at ninety six thousand. You can imagine on stage sort of being the big moment when the cast comes out and everybody’s sort of dancing at once. But the way that it’s done in the neighborhood is in a swimming pool. So it’s almost as Busby Berkeley style scene where all the major characters are gathering at the outdoor pool. Obviously, this movie takes place in summer. It has a very sort of do the right thing feeling of everybody being out in the streets, sweating all the time right on one of the hottest days of the year. And as was navvy and his buddies discover that this winning lottery ticket has been sold, they’re going around speculating about who in the neighborhood might possibly have bought it. And so it’s another chance for various characters to take their solo moment as they realize that it could have been them. I wonder how you guys felt? About ninety six thousand. I thought the choreography was spectacular in the scene. I did think that the the Busby Berkeley cinematography got to be a little bit much sometimes and that it was a bit over directed. I think there is some moments when John Imja mentioned this, but he was the director of crazy rich Asians a few years ago. So he knows his way around sort of these big colorful portraits of a of a community. Right. That’s sort of what crazy rich Asians was as well of the nonmusical. Did you guys feel a surge of energy in 1961 or were you were you cringing at all the overhead camera angles?


S1: I honestly will say it was one of my favorite numbers in the film. I did not love the overhead camera angles, especially in the pool, though, the synchronized swimming. I thought that was honestly so. I grew up watching the High School Musical and that’s exactly what it reminded me of. High School Musical two. There’s a scene with our shoes in the pool. It’s exactly what it sounded like. I didn’t love that, but I did love the musical, mainly just the lyrics. And that number are fantastic. I love how it introduces all the characters and their ambitions and dreams and just really shows the diversity of the desires of the people in the in the barrio. And one of the main things that I keep talking about is we need to write like the little dream that his father had, that his father passed on to him. And I really appreciated seeing everyone’s Benito’s in this number.

S4: Marissa, what about you?

S5: Did you did you feel a visceral response to ninety six thousand?

S2: It was really satisfying, you know, coming out of over a year of pandemic to see all these people in the pool so close together. It really did feel you two saw it in a theater. I saw it on a screen or on an antibody screen. And it really just made me crave the theatrical experience and to be breathing the same air as other people. Yeah, oxidated,

S4: I honestly feel like this movie should be prescribed for agoraphobic.

S5: You know, those who those who are tending to not want to leave their house yet and which I completely understand and who are not ready to rejoin the world, this this movie makes you see why it’s worthwhile


S4: to be out on the streets

S5: in the summer. And in a way, it ends up, I think, being good for this movie, that it was held because of the pandemic. Right. Because it ends up coming out at this time when there’s not that much new on screens. And in particular, you know, something that

S4: is sort of summer themed in the way that this movie

S2: is. It’s also so hot on the East Coast that I felt for these characters over the course of three very, very. Hot days in New York City, I was like, man, I would love to get in the pool.

S4: Well, that actually Marissa brings us to another big plot turn, which is the blackout. And this is more what drives the second act of the show.

S5: But we get this three day blackout, which seems to be, I think, loosely based on the real blackout that happened in in New York City that lasted a few days back in the early 2000s. And during this blackout, I mean, everybody has to be out on the streets, for one thing, because it’s so hot they can’t be in their apartment.

S4: But there are several plot threads that are driven forward by the fact that the electricity has been cut off.

S2: Yeah, U.S. Navy has finally asked out his crush, Vanessa, but they have a disastrous date where he pretends that he’s not jealous, that she’s dancing with other guys at the club. He dances with another woman at the club to sort of get in on it. He drinks too much. It’s not a good situation. And then the lights go out and it really brings everything in the musical to a fever pitch. I mean, you have Benny that is not doing all too much in this version of the musical. As much as I said, I appreciate that they didn’t make Kevin Rozario into as much of a racist character as he was. It actually does sort of not give Benny as much to do besides sort of be in love with Nina and show her around all the hot spots. She really is the one who’s more in conflict with her father over dropping out of Stanford, which is also driving this. And in the meantime, you have abuela sort of taking in everyone in the neighborhood to her apartment, lots of candles lit, playing games, passing the time as the fireworks go off outside because Sunny and Pete set off fireworks in part to light the neighborhood, in part to try to deter looters, which is not as much of an issue in this movie version, which has been a little bit sanitized from the stage musical where Gustave’s bodega is looted. But so basically, it’s a great excuse to get a lot of these characters in one place searching for each other in the dark.


S4: Right. So Marissa, as you say, that the blackout gets them all gathering together, indoors and out.

S5: We’ll see later the big number that they see gathered outdoors.

S4: But right at the midpoint of the movie, which is a different place than it occurred in the stage musical,

S5: we get a Bwalya Claudia’s big number, which happens in this strange dreamspace. So she’s got everybody

S4: gathered at her place with candles. Right. And is giving them food as the blackout begins.

S5: And then essentially we see her kind of dying vision, her her big musical number, PACIEN Safet happens in her mind as she’s as she’s lying in bed. It’s sort of her last moments. And it’s a strange contrast.

S4: I think that it works in that the number is so great that we sort of forget about the fact that it’s her dying dream. But remind us of where that song occurs in the musical, because I want I want to figure out why it was moved to this to this spot and what it’s supposed to accomplish in the story.

S2: I have very mixed feelings about this change because you’re right, it does move the song much later and it delays finding out who has the winning lottery ticket as a result. And I think that makes sense for the movie. Right. The longer we wait to find out who had this lottery ticket, the more suspense there is. You might even have a little bit forgotten about it by the time we get to the big reveal. But in the musical, we find out Akuila has the lottery ticket pretty much immediately after ninety six thousand where she sings this no nonsense, I say, where she is contemplating all of the sacrifices that her mother made that she made to leave Cuba and come to New York. And there’s an element of homesickness to it. And I think this later number right before she dies also has that element of homesickness, except that she dies like home in that case seems to be the afterlife, rejoining her mother as opposed to returning to the Caribbean, which in the musical is her plan. She wants to take these winnings with US Navy and go to the Dominican Republic. That I think sells the character a little bit short to change that and have her just sort of pass on and leave this dream behind. I think she was much more rounded when we knew early on what it what she wanted and who she was, rather than waiting to be like, here’s my whole life story. But by now, right?


S4: Yeah, that’s what it is. What sort of strange is that?

S5: The closest we get to understanding

S4: and knowing her character and knowing her background happens when we know that we’re already losing her. Right. I mean, the way it stays, you know, that this is going to be the last thing you hear from her. Also, of course, she never learns that she won the lottery, right? I mean, she dies before she ever knows it. So it ends up being a posthumous revelation for for the rest of the characters. And you’re right. It seems like that

S5: kind of takes away from her subjectivity.

S4: Sophia, what do

S5: you think about the possibility of a number that we see the dying vision? Of abuela, cloudy, I mean, it is in itself a beautiful piece of music and dancing,

S1: I think similarly to what Marissa said, it does feel like I kind of culture you see this whole number about how she wants to go home and then she doesn’t get to. And it’s just heartbreaking how you see her whole relationship with Cuba and her family. And there’s this one line which I think really resonated with me in that song. It’s something along the lines of there’s no light in Washington Heights, but there’s no food in Cuba. And she talks about that dichotomy between that necessity of having to leave and which I think is very much a part of the immigrant experience. But then it’s kind of cut short so she doesn’t get to dream more about moving back, even though wouldn’t be to Cuba to be to the Dominican Republic. But that whole opportunity is just taken away from her. And I think it’s somewhat of an injustice to have that revelation happen because it does feel like a regulatory moment. But for that to happen a few minutes before


S4: her death, yeah, I’m ambivalent about it. I mean, dramatically. I think it works extremely well.

S5: But but I

S4: think it does sell her character short some. And I’m not quite sure that I understand

S5: it because, as you say, Marissa, it delays the discovery of the lottery ticket. But I’m not sure that

S4: that that is quite worth the trade off.

S2: I also wonder if her death would have had more impact if it were unexpected the way that it is in the musical, because you see her go up those subway steps into the light and then she immediately dies in the real world. And so it’s not easy. Finding her body, while very sad, is not really a shock. You’re sort of it’s you’re taking a while journey rather than snobbism journey, which seemed to me like a mistake. I don’t hate it, but I have my quibbles with it.

S5: So if we look at this big boy, Claudia, no opportunity fares being kind of the

S4: midpoint of the movie as to where it’s been moved.

S5: It’s essentially the beginning of what would be Act two if there were an intermission, like in a in a play. I think the big point that I want to talk about in the second half is the last big production number that everybody dances in,

S4: which is Carnival, the body of this outdoor sort of spontaneous party that springs up

S5: during the blackout. It’s daytime. It’s the day, I believe it’s the

S4: day after abuela has died and the whole neighborhood is in

S5: mourning about it. And there’s this great scene of everybody just sort of moping around in this public square. Right. So you see people on their fire escapes, you know, people hanging out on the stoops. Everybody’s sort of collectively in this glum mood. And then all at once,


S4: Daniella, the character who is who runs a hair salon,

S5: who’s played by Daphne Rubin Vega,

S4: decides that they have to turn this this moment into a moment of collective partying and and then turns into this great number that’s almost sort of a dance off among

S5: the different immigrant communities that

S4: live in the heights. I don’t know. I mean, to me, this number is one of the most unimpeachably fun parts of the whole movie. And even somebody who is, you know,

S5: thoroughly anti musical seems like they would be converted by it. Sophia, did you did you feel

S4: that way

S1: as someone through entire musical? Yeah, definitely converted. I also just appreciated so much of that musical, as you mentioned, was like kind of the dance battle between the different countries. And you had all the flags of Cuba and the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. And I just thought it was a very fantastic show of community, also the fact that Danniella started it and not one of the more main characters. So we kind of see her as like not a matriarch because that’s thought well of Claudia’s role. But Daniela is a big caretaker, almost. It feels in the community her role in this one. She has a lot of people coming in and out. She is the center of all gossip. As we learn later, she eventually helps Vanessa get that apartment that she wants. So Daniela definitely has a caretaking aspect to it. It’s clear that she cares about the community. And to have her kind of start this song, I think was really valuable in showing the community was not only love Claudia and US Navy and Vanessa and Nina and all these characters that we’ve gotten to know a little bit more. And also, as you said, it was just infectiously fun. The music is so energetic and the dancing is overpowering and fantastic.


S2: It also is a great showcase for one of my favorite bits of casting, which is Daphne Beatrice as Carla. So in this version, first of all, Daniela and Carla are lovers, which I was surprised by and so happy to see. I had my notes. I wrote Snobby. They’re lesbians like our Carol Meem, Harold, they’re lesbians. I think that was really fun, especially since Stephanie betrays herself, is by and has been very outspoken about bisexual representation. And she just seems to be having so much fun for such a small part. I mean, she really made a

S4: lot out of it. Yeah. That whole beauty beauty parlor threesome is really, really well cast.

S5: I think it was also really fun to see Dasha Polanco from Orange is the New

S4: Black, although she doesn’t get really much of a moment or a song to herself.

S5: She actually was a pretty good dancer in the ensemble and she was just a

S4: welcome presence as well. So, yeah, I would definitely class that as one of the. We must see numbers from the show, if you were streaming this and you

S5: were walking in and out, only watching part of it, this would be the part that you would you would come in for. In general, the choreography, which is by Christopher Scott, different person and choreographed the stage show, is really a sensationally sized for the screen, you know, and I think, John, M-2 does a good job in general with a couple of exceptions

S4: of framing the dancing so that you see everyone’s full body, you see what you want to see. And, you know, they’re doing their own dancing, which is something that is important to give a musical energy.


S5: I think, you know, you don’t want to feel like somebody’s getting doubled and they’re dancing or singing if possible. But speaking of dancing, the other big dance number from

S4: the second half is not a big hoedown for the whole neighborhood, but is a very intimate partida between two characters, between our A Love

S5: Story, Benny and Nina. And and it’s filmed in a completely cinematic way that could not have happened on stage. Do you want to describe it?

S1: Yeah, sure. So you see Benny Anina as she was packing, she’s decided that she’s going to go back to Stanford. She talks to her dad about it. She decides to accept the money that it’s going to cost him to send her there. And she decides that that’s how she’s going to help her community by going back to school. So she is packing with Benny. I think it’s a couple of days before she is going to leave back to the West Coast and they are on this fire escape. And somehow you see Benny kind of lean over the side of the building and he starts walking on it. Somehow he the gravity shifts and they start walking across the side of this New York City apartment complex. And I just thought it was so interesting as a choice. I can’t say that I loved it. It did feel very cinematic in a way that obviously a theatre production couldn’t have been. But I’m not sure if that was exactly something that added to the actual film. But I would love to hear what you all think.

S5: I mean, to me, it was pretty magical. But it is one of those moments that I think I may say this in my review of the movie, too. Like you have to have a pretty high tolerance for schmaltz, you know, the same way that you do in general to buy into the whole let’s all burst into song. Right? This takes it up another level, like let’s defy gravity with our love. And because it shout it out to Fred Astaire, there’s a famous moment when Fred Astaire dances on the ceiling in the musical royal wedding. The old Hollywood kind of cornball in me really loved it. I can see how this could be hokey, especially because it’s a very sweet couple who, as we mentioned, all the pretty much all the conflict has been taken out of their relationship. And they’re just having a purely sweet moment together. But I kind of thought that John M-2 pulled it off. It achieved liftoff for me. What about you, Marissa?


S2: I think it was necessary only because so much of the musical and musicals in general is people facing the camera and saying how they feel. And so I thought this added a nice little variety. We’ve seen so many big group numbers where everyone’s dancing in unison, synchronized. We’ve had a lot of people walking toward the camera. We’ve had these great fantasy sequences. And I think the fantasy sequences, I almost would have liked to see more of them. I mean, one of my favorite moments is when Benny and Nina are talking about the neighborhood and Nina Trace’s a subway pattern into the chain link fence and it glows red and it’s the subway line. And I almost would have liked to see even more of that to really take advantage of the fact that this isn’t a stage musical, this is a movie, and they can really go big. I felt the same way about when Vanessa singing about her dreams, these huge bolts of fabric. Pour over the city, down the buildings, and it’s it’s just really a great visual, and I have I thought that was a lot of fun.

S4: Yeah, that was cool.

S5: There is one moment when I thought those digital effects were used in a kind of unnecessary way. It was tiny, but much earlier during ninety six thousand, there’s a moment that the guys are walking down the street having just discovered, you know, that somebody won the lottery and they’re talking about what they would do with the ninety six thousand. And there’s this mode that they kind of like draw things in the air with their hands and they’re sort of like a digital pad. You know, there’s like a little animation of whatever it was that they drew. And that just seemed like a moment when John and she was just enjoying his digital effects because he could. And I was perfectly happy to just hear about their dreams in their own words and movements.


S2: I think that was the case of too little rather than too much, because I think that if he had brought that into the entire number, it would have had much more of an impact because I felt a little bit shortchanged when they had that scene where they are sort of animated as they’re talking. And then you go to the pool and it’s all just camerawork, really, and performance as opposed to animation. So, yes, I had the opposite reaction, but was equally disappointed in the end.

S4: In general, though,

S5: I would say that I respect John Chu’s maximalist approach. I mean, not everything works, but I appreciate that, you know, as you said earlier, so jubilant, like it’s a maximalist kind of movie. And I kind of appreciate that he’s throwing everything out and and seeing what works. I know that they are going to be people that will will find this movie too much too much sweetness and too much kind of sensorial input on the dancing singing front. But I liked it all.

S1: And I want to pick up on something you said there, Dana about the film. Having too much sweetness in earlier said that Benny and Nina’s relationship is one that has had all the conflict taken out of it. And I think we do see this in this number on the side of the building. So the song is called When the Sun Goes Down. But in the show it follows an earlier duet that they have called Sunrise, where they kind of explore their relationship. They explore the feeling that Nina’s family has towards Benny, for his being black, for his being non-annex. And by the time that you get to watch the sunset, they’re supposed to have resolved all these conflicts. But in the way that works in the film, those conflicts were never introduced in the first place. So it feels like it really sells the relationship a little bit short and it falls flat for me. The fact that you have this big resolution song, Nina has decided to go to college. They’re dancing on the side of a building. It’s fantastical and it doesn’t feel like there is much resolution there, which I think happens with the relationship throughout the film. There isn’t too much conflict. So then by the time when they finally get together and it’s supposed to be this big moment, it just feels like it was expected the whole time and there wasn’t really too much standing in the way or anything standing in the way.


S2: Really it’s occurring to me is the biggest villain in this movie, the Mister Softee guy. I mean, they’ve really softened Rosario to the point where, you know, I want to like him because he’s Jimmy Smits. But it’s true that by removing this storyline, they really do make the villain like gentrification as opposed to there being as much conflict within the community.

S5: Yeah, that’s a really good is the villain. Mr. Softee is a headline waiting to happen. So excellent. But yeah, if you if you think about there not having been anything to balance out that problem in their relationship, I mean, ultimately the big conflict in the Pnina story is just is this beautiful, brilliant woman going to go back to Stanford so that her adoring boyfriend has to wait for her instead of dancing with her on the side of the building? I mean, she kind of can’t lose either way. So, you know, it’s hard to get super invested in that story.

S2: It’s notable, too, that Nina in the original stage musical doesn’t drop out by choice. She drops out because even with her scholarship, she can’t afford to be at Stanford without working two jobs. And so her grades slip. So even Nina, to an extent, has been a little bit. Sanitized and made to be more perfect than she is because she couldn’t make it work, it wasn’t entirely by choice. And so when she accepts help in the musical, it’s really humbling to take on her father’s sacrifice because she feels that she failed in this case. She left Stanford of her own volition, not to trivialize what she went through there, but they did take a little bit of the sting out of it.


S4: Right.

S5: And also makes that number breathe that we mentioned earlier, which is essentially her. Not only her. I want no, but sort of her. I screwed up. No. Right. Admitting her own her own flaws or failures, it makes it less dramatically powerful. And it could have been.

S4: So for a movie that has so little conflict, it’s not like there’s a whole lot to be

S5: resolved at the end. But we still have to figure out what’s going to happen with navvy and Vanessa, both of whom essentially have the same conflict, which is that they want to get

S4: out of the neighborhood and achieve their dreams.

S5: And at the end of the story, that sort of happens for Vanessa, as you said earlier, Marissa because of Daniela, who seems to be establishing herself as the new matriarch of the neighborhood, she has gone and vouched for the credit. She’s behind Vanessa’s back, has gone downtown to this apartment that Vanessa is trying to get, but doesn’t quite have the financials in place to get. And she vouches for her financially and makes it possible for her to go downtown and study fashion and achieve her dream. But what about this Navy?

S1: So snobby after and Dana, as you mentioned, I think you mentioned it might have been Marissa. But earlier the plotline with Sonny and Sonny being undocumented gives a snobby kind of more of a reason to stay. And you see that happening in the end of the movie. So he decides to use the lottery ticket that he found from Claudia to pay for Sunny’s legal fees so that he could get on the path to citizenship. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Vanessa comes back to his apartment. She brings him a bottle of champagne to celebrate his moving to the Dominican Republic, which is still happening as of this point. And she tells him that he’s uninspired and that he should stay. And at that point, he still said, I’m leaving. So later on in the film, Vanessa ends up getting inspiration from graffiti. Pete. So graffiti, as Dana mentioned earlier, had been tagging Nobbys, but his role has kind of been sanitized throughout. I think you see him maybe once in the film, whereas in the show he’s a lot more and she ends up getting these painting cloths that he’s been using to clean up his graffiti. And that becomes her inspiration after moving to this new apartment in what we think is a more sanitized neighborhood. And what they end up doing is kind of recreating the Dominican Republic dream for Snabe in his bodega. So she runs into him outside and she brings him in and the entire bodega is now covered in paper. The light inside of it is golden and her designs are with these washcloths. That graffiti Pete was using are flanking. They’re covering the entire bodega. And on the wall you see a painting that graffiti painted. And this is kind of, I think, what flipped the switch from snobby. He sees the beach in the Dominican Republic where his father had his bar and he sees it recreated in the bodega. You see, Marissa, you mentioned this earlier, there’s a neon crab in the beach when he’s telling the story to these children, you see the neon crab in the corner of painter’s tape. And that’s kind of when everything flips in this frame, narrative comes back into play. You notice that he hasn’t been on a beach this whole time. He’s been in the bodega telling stories to the children.


S4: They’re right. And so as that

S5: frame story comes back, you also kind of jump forward into the future. And you see that one of the kids, I should say, the the unrealistically attentive children who listen to this entire long story on the fictional beach, one of them is actually Oose navvy and Vanessa’s kid. Right. So we’ve now jumped forward into the future and realized that instead of going back to the D-R, he has made his bodega into kind of a neighborhood. Well, it already was, but he’s made it into sort of even more of a neighborhood center. And as you said, it has this great kind of Trump Lioy painting on the wall that makes you look like you are already on the beach. And as we spent the whole show pretty much in a place of sweetness and light, we really end on that note with another big dancing in the street. No, that kind of echoes the opening in the Heights. No. And I feel like the ending really, really had me going. I think I was even sort of tearing up a bit. And then I once again found that the schmaltz was ladled on a little bit too thick by the fact that the very last shot of the movie is a close up of the little girl in his arms. Anytime kids came into this. I mean, I’m a big children person. I even love child actors. But any time small children came into this movie, I felt like it was upping the sentiment ante a little bit too hard.

S2: I am firmly team schmaltz, but I have to say, when that little girl there’s this really pregnant pause and then she says, Daddy, and it’s, you know, Anthony Ramos sort of gets teary. I was like, this is too far. What is this how I met your mother? Real. We got. It’s this kid, please let her go out and play. Yeah, I thought that pushed it way too far. It almost was. You know, the musical ends on more of a I would say, an uncertain note than the movie does. Optimistic, sure. But, you know, not every loose end is so tied up to the point where you have to flash forward and be like, yes, that was a happy ending. And you know that because they’re together and they have a child. That to me, was just like a step too far in the schmults direction. You need to trust your audience a little bit.


S4: Yeah, I agree.

S5: Are you are you with us on that, Sophia? I would have just chopped the frame story out.

S1: I am torn. I do think that it did wrap up. It tried to wrap up the ending in a very clean way, which just cause your attention to the fact that all these other stories that were introduced in the very beginning did not have that same bow wrapped on top of them that this one did. It’s interesting to see the resolution between Vanessa and Sanabis relationship, because only a couple of songs before she was extremely mad at him and they were in a fight and somehow everything was resolved and then they had a kid. I do think it does some work to forward, kind of like the legacy theme of the film, which I think in some point was played up to a degree that was just way too high and it was made very obvious. But I didn’t hate it.

S5: I mean, I was even OK with them having the kid at the end. It’s just the close up. Do you have to end on the close up of the cute little girl? That I hadn’t realized, Sophia, that it was also for you, the first film back in theaters. And I think that’s kind of a good note to end on, because I feel like if you are someone who can even tolerate a movie musical and you are looking for a big summer movie to go drink a big icy cocain and remember what it’s like to be in a theater, I would send people to this one. Do you all agree?

S2: Oh, for sure.

S1: Hundred percent.

S4: Yeah. It doesn’t have to


S5: be perfect to give you that kind of exhilarating theatrical experience. So I think in spite of all of our reservations and actually have even more than I did before knowing some of this stuff Marissa that you told us about the musical, I would still send people there pretty much without reservation.

S2: I mean, I think a sign of an effective musical adaptation is that if you haven’t seen the original and you shouldn’t have to see the original to appreciate it, you don’t notice that stuff. And I think in that sense, I think it’s a really effective adaptation. It’s also just a beautiful, beautiful movie. And really it feels like summer.

S1: And after such a difficult year for so many people, it just feels so great to go into a movie that wants you to forget absolutely everything. It is very sanitized. It does cut a lot of the more gritty plot points, a lot of the conflict in the film to the point where, yes, I think Mr. Softee is probably the main villain, but after such a crazy year, it just feels very nice to let yourself go to that, to just give in completely.

S4: All right. So we’re all

S5: sending you to in the Heights, feel the celebration, feel the love

S4: fight. Mr. Softy,

S5: in all his evil ways.

S4: Feel the schmaltz. Yes. Lap it up.

S5: All right. Well, I really appreciate having both of you here bringing bringing your own perspectives to insight. I hope you’ll both come back on again and spoil the movie with me soon.

S2: Thanks, Dana.

S1: Thank you.

S4: Well, that’s our show. You can subscribe to the Slate spoiler special podcast feed. And if you like our show, you can read it and review it in the Apple podcast store or wherever you get your podcasts. And please, if you have suggestions for movies or TV shows, we should spoil in the future or other feedback to share. Send it to spoilers at Slate Dotcom. Our producer is Morgan Flannery for Marissa Martinelli and Zofia and I’m Dana Stevens. Thank you for listening and we’ll talk to you again soon.