tick, tick… BOOM!
- Emma Simmonds
- 11 November 2021
Andrew Garfield is sensational as Jonathan Larson in Lin-Manuel Miranda's confident directorial debut
The quest for artistic success is compellingly examined as Lin-Manuel Miranda brings the story of one of his personal heroes, Rent creator Jonathan Larson, movingly to the screen. Larson would die unexpectedly, aged just 35, following an aortic dissection, on the morning of Rent's Off-Broadway preview, and the film, which is an adaptation of his semi-autobiographical musical of the same title, has an appropriate sense of time running out.
The story is set in the New York City of 1990, with the AIDS crisis part of its backdrop and adding further urgency. Andrew Garfield is unimprovably cast as Larson, known here as Jon, learning to sing for the role and resembling him enough to convince – the bouffant hairstyle works wonders in that respect. He fully captures Jon's spirited personality and frenzied and obsessive immersion in his art, which comes at the expense of his relationships with girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) and best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús). Jon is approaching his 30th birthday with a paralysing fear of failure, as he finetunes his near-decade-in-the-making futuristic rock musical Superbia ahead of its showcase.
Miranda is the wildly acclaimed creator of Hamilton and In The Heights, and is also known for his song-writing work on Moana and as an actor in Mary Poppins Returns and His Dark Materials. He's making his directorial debut here working from a screenplay by Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen), and the result is a film full of exuberance, anguish and visual pizzazz that pulls hard on the heartstrings and is not afraid to paint an occasionally unflattering picture of its protagonist, with its focus on his self-absorption.
It flits between Jon's professional preparations, financial struggles and strained interactions with loved ones and him performing the confessional tick, tick… BOOM! on stage, complete with musical numbers that flesh out and jazz up his crisis. Despite Miranda's own song-writing credentials, the music is entirely Larson's (including background songs and jingles and a rap performed by Black Thought) and is wonderful in its variety, as the songs swing from the irreverent or jubilant to those that are wracked with angst.
This is very much Garfield's show but there's touching supporting work from de Jesús and strong vocals from the dramatically side-lined Shipp and Vanessa Hudgens (the latter plays one of the Superbia performers Karessa), plus a memorable cameo from Bradley Whitford as Larson's idol and champion Stephen Sondheim. Miranda was inspired to write musicals after watching Rent and he's achieved something incredible here: his film acts as a fitting tribute, introducing us to Larson's larger than life personality and dedication to his artistic cause, whilst beautifully realising his work.
Available to watch in selected cinemas from Friday 12 November and on Netflix from Friday 19 November.