The movie adaptation of the Broadway play of the same name, In the Heights, is finally here! Crazy Rich Asians director Jon Chu brings Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes' musical to the big screen that tells the story of a NYC bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and the lives of various residents living in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights over the course of a sizzling-hot three days.
The movie family focuses on the aspirational young that want their neighborhood to stay the same and not become re-gentrified, but at the same time, they want to evolve. They have life plans of their own, and they want to become fashion designers or acclaimed graduates while still holding to their multicultural identity. These young adults want to escape, especially Usnavi, who’s keen on returning to his childhood home in the Dominican Republic to re-open his father's old bar.
Usnavi, throughout the movie, also narrates the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the Heights. One of the movie's brightest characters in the film is the community matriarch Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), who raised Usnavi after his parents died. She became a surrogate grandmother to many in the barrio, and the young strivers will need Abuela's guidance as their contradiction plagues them. Unfortunately, in the Broadway musical, Abuela dies. Does she also die in the movie?
Unfortunately Abuela Claudia does die in the movie version of 'In the Heights', but not in the same way as the play.
Olga Merediz, who portrays Claudia in the movie, also played Abuela during the entire run of the broadway musical. Through Abuela Claudia, the characters in the movie will learn that you can become who you want to be just by being who you already are. The cheerleader and caretaker of everyone in the neighborhood is a woman who believes in faith and patience. Abuela has been through so much and was a true believer that miracles happen to those who wait.
Her blessing finally comes, and she doesn’t know what to do. Claudia ends up winning the lottery for $96,000 but doesn’t tell anyone about it and just holds on to it. During the blackout in the film, Abuela recalls her childhood in Cuba and her life journey, which led her to the present day. She remembers what she and her mother had to give up to come to America and while lying on the couch, imagines a fantasy subway station.
At the end of her song, Abuela Claudia climbs the subway stairs and into the light. That’s when she dies from the strain of the sweltering summer heat. Usnavi finds her unconscious and desperately tries to contact emergency services. All the residents come together to mourn their pillar of the community, and a mural in her honor is unveiled toward the end of the movie.
Abuela had stashed her winning lottery ticket away somewhere with a note that read: “For Usnavi." He comes across it later when he goes through her things.
In an interview with W Magazine, Olga talks about being in the play and movie and shares, “It’s amazing for me to have this journey with this character from its inception. It’s very rare for a theater actor to have the opportunity to play their role in a movie. I’m so grateful; it’s like a miracle, a dream come true. I knew that the audition was make it or break it for me, life or death. I had to really blow it out and do the best job possible.”
In the Heights premiered on June 11 in theaters and on the streaming platform HBO Max.