PG-13 for language and general melancholy. Considering that Jonathan Larson was heavily impacted by the AIDS epidemic, the movie deals with the people that he lost while writing the stories that he wrote. There is little sex, but Larson often has too much appreciation for alcohol and drugs considering that there aren't that many repercussions with these moments. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Lin-Manuel Miranda
I have a hook ready to go and I'm going to full-on sacrifice it because I need to get this out of my system. This title is dumb. It is completely shoe-horned into a movie / musical that only uses it as this remote reference. I get the nature of time being this leitmotif throughout the film, but come on. Come. On. For the sake of my limited readership, I'm going to refer to this movie as Boom or some version of that. I can't type that title in every time. It's going to cause me to bleed out of my brain.
Okay, horrible name aside, there's something really special in this movie. I grew up in the era of Rent. For a guy who had never seen it or owned the soundtrack, I knew every word to every song for a long time. I had a friend growing up (with whom I would love to connect) who just kept singing the lyrics to Rent on repeat. Much with my disdain for Harry Potter, coupled with my outright hypocrisy, I held Rent in contempt. It didn't help that the movie was pretty panned and that people were only sharing the worst parts of the musical with me. It was just TOO part of the zeitgeist. I also wouldn't probably get along with me in high school now, if it helps. But Boom actually made me want to look at Rent again through a new lens.
I feel horrible for Andrew Garfield fielding all of these Spider-Man : No Way Home questions in light of his involvement with Boom. In no way was I prepped for how perfectly cast he was as Jonathan Larson. Jonathan Larson is a very specific kind of person. I know that there have been other Larson types since Larson himself. But Garfield absolutely nails what it was like to be theatrically obsessed during the '90s. He's this guy who is imbued with a confidence that is both undeserved and necessary to survive. That's what I took away from this movie, by the way. It's not a perfect read of what the movie is trying to sell throughout. Nope. But Larson is the right level of perfectly toxic to make something like Rent happen. He's this guy who is both gifted and burdened by genius. He has this ear for music that anyone on Broadway would kill for. I don't know how true to life that was to Larson's real life. Knowing that Larson is the one telling his own tale in Boom is arrogant as heck, but it's also so fundamental to the story.
Larson needs to have that kind of blind fanaticism towards the American Dream. Larson's understanding of the American Dream isn't that you have to work hard for success. It's the idea of gambling. Larson is this guy who is just overwhelmed with a very marketable talent. He's in the shadow of the advertising world and has the skill to make a glut of money when he really wants to be working as an artist. The very practical version of me instantly started looking inward. I mean, I really love teaching English. I really like it. I write a blog for goodness sake. But there's also a part of me that wishes that I lived like a starving artist, writing book after book only to get rejected time and again. And it's weird to see Larson tell this story about Superbia, knowing that it will not make it. There's just this meta narrative of us never hearing the word Rent anywhere in this movie; knowing that Larson is going to get his work of genius completely rejected, despite the fact that it has a glowing endorsement by the wizard-like Stephen Sondheim (may he rest in peace).
But it is the meta narrative running through the piece. I mean, Miranda has so many balls in the air for this movie. I'm sure that the Off-Broadway show did some of the lifting. But Miranda doesn't really give you a ton of context for the timeline until the real end. Honestly, for a good chunk of the movie, I didn't know that an element of the movie was acting as narration and I think that is done on purpose. Because how can this movie exist the way it does and not address that Larson can't be the one presenting the story in the way that the stage version wants to. His very anticlimactic death loomed over the world of Rent and it colors the world of Boom. Because what this movie absolutely nails is the concept of ambition. Throughout the film, we understand that this is about Larson trying to share his art with the world, no matter the cost. He's this manchild who views his 30th birthday as a sign of failure. Despite the fact that he has legally been an adult for 18 years of his life, it is his 30th birthday that views his lifestyle as irresponsible. That's really interesting because it presents the movie from a perspective of having simultaneous high stakes and low stakes. From the way that we view Larson, with his partying and his squandering of cash, that he's never going to change. But to him, he absolutely sees 30 as the death of the Larson we know. If Superbia didn't generate interest, then it was going to be about capitalism and selling out. It would have been about the death of art and that's what Garfield conveys so well through his portrayal of Larson.
I'm always a little flummoxed about "good singing" and "good dancing" in movies or on stage. I know, I have a theatre degree. But that has always been about the acting and directing. I just never really can comment on the acting and dancing in a movie. I just know how Garfield's performance made me feel. This felt like something wildly out of Garfield's comfort range and he nailed it. It didn't feel like a classically trained singer, but it felt like a guy who sung everything that came to his mind. He didn't dance like a guy who did flips, but a guy who worked in a diner and loved to see the quirky side of life. It made the movie work in a way that Rent worked. I mean, the movie even put Garfield in juxtaposition with professional singers often. He was the playwright who sang his own life, but then there were all these actors who were belting out these beautiful notes. But I didn't need that next level. I related so much more to Larson because he seemed like this wunderkind who just liked doing it. I didn't need to have layered singing. I just wanted to have a guy who found beauty in everything around him.
Long and short? I'm going to give Rent its fair due. I don't think I'm ready for the movie yet. I hear so many things about the movie that I feel like I can't watch it without being tainted. But I can buy the stage performance from Amazon for, like, $12.99. That can't be the worst decision. But that's the power of a good story. I want it to continue on. I want to learn everything about him now. That's a good movie.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.