Directed By Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring – Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus
The Plot – The film follows Jonathan Larson (Garfield), a young theater composer who’s waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 while writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. Days before he’s due to showcase his work in a make-or-break performance, Jon is feeling the pressure from everywhere: from his girlfriend Susan (Shipp), who dreams of an artistic life beyond New York City; from his friend Michael (de Jesus), who has moved on from his dream to a life of financial security; amidst an artistic community being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. With the clock ticking, Jon is at a crossroads and faces the question everyone must reckon with: What are we meant to do with the time we have?
Rated PG-13 for some strong adult language, some suggestive material and drug references
– Dynamite debut. Lin-Manuel Miranda seems like the perfect man to craft Larson’s semi-autobiographical effort, in that his contemporary status as a musical maestro commands many of the same notes and nuances that made Larson such a creative force to be reckoned with for the genre. As such, Miranda instills an energy and vibrancy to the experience that brings out the tenacity in the perils of inspiration, complete with those closest to the visionary who holds each of them captive while trying to channel his inner voice. It relishes in an urgency that speaks volumes about the American dream, but also a deconstruction on the materialistic aspects of life that we initially deem important, over the people and places that serve to drive that aforementioned inspiration, and stays so close to the heart for Miranda, who clearly prescribes no shortage of heart, ambition, or especially respect to the story of a man he values so immensely.
– Heavyweight impact. Most musicals pertaining to drama succeed in such an objection, but strain their impacts with the contradictory light-heartedness of the music that underscore its emphasis. That simply isn’t the case with Larson’s story, as the setting of 1990 New York City lends itself to an ongoing AIDS pandemic that more than casually makes its presence felt in the duration of the film, leading to some tender moments of sentimentality and even grief that swallowed me whole in the clutches of my increasing interest to the film. In addition to this, there’s no shortage of vulnerability deposited to these very personal songs for Larson, which not only offer an intimately revealing insight into the mind of an artist yearning to hang on when the world surrounding him is constantly changing, but also a pallet of emotional climaxes that result in a series of timely pay-offs for individual subplots that make up so much of the script’s creative depths.
– Unique framing. What I find most appealing to this particular film, as well as one that cleverly coincides with overhead narration, is the scheme of Jonathan’s on-screen persona performing one of his shows, while we the audience are interpreting matters all the same. In doing such, Jonathan is very much looking out to them, and never into the camera, but we immerse ourselves as one of adoring theatergoers, which in turn leads to production value that easily combines the audio elements of the theater with the visual spectrum of cinema, creating a seamless marriage that remains faithful to the essence of the show. It grants a justification to the narration that steers us along without ever holding our hands by taking away importance from the exposition being delivered in the heart of the scene, feeling like a series of personal recollections for Jonathan, but not ones that ever take away from the integrity of the experience in valuing him as something he rightfully wasn’t.
– Infectious tracks. In stitching together twelve original tracks written and performed originally by Larson himself, you easily understand what made him such a pioneer for stage shows that at the time were a bit outdated in concept. For my money, it’s much of the acting that goes into the personalities deposited to the performances, which help to take away from the lack of believability that I typically feel in movie musicals, and here still maintain emotion and feeling from the singer who doesn’t feel suppressed by the transformation from dialogue to music. In addition to that, the tracks themselves are every bit tonally eclectic as they are ingeniously rendered, proving the effectiveness of the exercise that Jonathan himself mentioned during the film, where he said during moments of song-writing, he tried to make a song about literally anything. It works because the lyrical impulses delivered to such are constructed in ways that work cohesively with the sharpness of the instruments, and made all the more alluring with actual singing from Garfield, who is surprisingly key-coordinated as the most expressive kind of soprano.
– Limitless talent. Speaking of Garfield, he hands in what I feel is his most transformative performance of the entirety of his career, and one that at the very least deserves Oscar consideration for what he’s able to accomplish. Part of the intrigue certainly comes from his appearance, which bares more than a striking resemblance to Larson’s likeness, but there’s a passionate emphasis that enhances much of the way Garfield is able to deliver his dialogue, and the excitement for such ingenuity that went a long way with intoxicating my investment for his character. In addition to Garfield, I also found the vocal capacity and visualizations during performances from Vanessa Hudgens to lend themselves to a wide range of emotional prowess that worked terrifically for the performances of the songs, and serving as a welcome mat back in front of the mic for Hudgens, which she relishes with operatic glee.
– Biopic distancing. One of the understated elements that will inevitably be swept under the rug during people’s experiences with the film, is the creative diversity from within that it uses to elude one of the more formulaic annoyances in movie’s depicting pop culture genius. In this instance, it comes in the form of being a story about Larson’s creative process, and not necessarily about the musical that made him a stage-show legend, in “Rent”. In a lesser handled story, a film like this, especially its psychological franticness of Larson, would be undercut for a literal transcribing into the familiar elements of the play that worked their way so forcefully into the biographical aspects of the protagonist’s captivity, but here it values much more of the creative process during such a particular period in an artist’s life that conveys the bigger picture thematically instead. It’s an aspect of production and storytelling that I wish more contemporary biopics would take note of (Speaking to you “Bohemian Rhapsody”), especially during instances when a film will overtly indulge in a song or film without understanding the pivotal measures that went into the process in creating them.
– Tonally reflective. One aspect of the film that I feel could work against people’s interests, is the vibrant sense of energy to the engagements and the storytelling that periodically distorts reality to spontaneous fantastical renderings. Why it didn’t bother me is because I see those elements as extensions of its protagonist, and considering the entirety of the film is told from his perspective, that freneticism and imagination that works so effectively in illustrating the characters authentically enriches the experience. It’s a warmhearted testament to the infectious nervousness that was easily one of Jonathan’s most distinguishing traits, and while it leads to one particular problem with detectability of the exposition, which I will get to later, does serve as one of those unchangeable aspects of the production that proves how detailed Miranda’s focus was in conjuring up a cinematic personality that embodies the intensely unorthodox nature of its biographical dedication.
– Crying wolf. Considering the movie itself makes it a point to audibly outline the lack of opportunity for minority and gay artists for the time period that the movie takes place in, the film isn’t able to elude the self-centeredness of Larson’s relationships, nor the privilege of his supposedly dreaded disposition. This obviously undercuts much of the dramatic emphasis that the film asks for in his plot, but rarely ever fully receives, especially during moments when Larson is lamenting about his own lack of creative inspiration with the inevitability of 30, with the contrast of his friends inevitability with the age being doomed by impending death. At least the film is able to call itself out for such irresponsible measures, as I feel it is an important aspect to depict for the timely period. Unfortunately, it isn’t able to fully land where Larson develops as a point of this perspective being brought to him, and with urgency of its pacing being subjected to the frantic consistency of the movie’s whole, rushes the execution of the climax, which I feel could’ve used an additional ten minutes to reveal to uninformed audiences how the homosexual perspective weighed so heavily on the creation of “Rent”.
– Momentary distractions. While nothing that is tragically condemning to the integrity of the experience, there were some stylistic choices during musical sequences that I feel took far too much of a literal rendering that led to more than a few notable distractions from the profoundness of the lyrics. It’s presented in some visuals with the backdrops and set designs that materialize more than a few coinciding instances to character conflicts, particularly ones we already know and coherently interpret, which in turn creates an echoing meandering that muddles the clear and concise direction that Miranda supplants during tender moments of interaction. This can be especially doubled down upon during sadder performances, when music video special effects and budgetary production bares more than an insensitivity to the magnitude of emotions being elaborated upon, giving us gaps of over-indulgence that I wish were omitted from the finished product all together.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+