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Tick, Tick... Boom!
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Lin-Manuel Miranda
scr Steven Levenson
prd Lin-Manuel Miranda, Julie Oh, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard
with Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, Vanessa Hudgens, Joshua Henry, Judith Light, Bradley Whitford, Jonathan Marc Sherman, Mj Rodriguez, Ben Levi Ross, Richard Kind, Utkarsh Ambudkar
release US/UK 12.Nov.21
21/US Netflix 1h55
Is it streaming?
Before he wrote Rent, Jonathan Larson created this 1990 one-man musical about a struggling New York playwright. And first-time director Lin-Manuel Miranda turns it into a breathtaking musical biopic, taking risks with the material that pay off in soaring emotionality. This is a knowing exploration of the pressures of trying to be creative and earn a living at the same time. And Larson's eclectic, incisive songs are simply glorious.
In Manhattan, Jon (Garfield) is feeling the ticking timebomb as he approaches his 30th birthday and a workshop reading of his musical Superbia. His childhood buddy Michael (de Jesus) has given up acting for advertising, while Jon's dancer girlfriend Susan (Shipp) is considering a teaching job outside the city. Jon struggles to balance these things with his show, which still needs one key song. And while his agent Rose (Light) seems to offer little help, Jon is both hopeful and terrified that the legendary Stephen Sondheim (Whitford) will show up as promised for the performance.
Framed by a stage performance with Jon singing alongside Karessa and Roger (Hudgens and Henry), the story unfolds in beautifully edited flashback, as the kaleidoscopic structure spotlights key details, flights of fancy and earthy realism. It's an exhilarating approach that reaffirms Larson's profound composing skills while playfully imagining his creative process. There are also fabulous Broadway references in both the songs and filmmaking (cameo alert!), plus a moving depiction of the impact of Aids. And it remains both fast-paced and viscerally involving.
Garfield is staggering in the central role, pouring his soul into each moment while creating a vividly complex portrait of a writer, artist, friend and lover. The way Jon grapples with his ambition is refreshingly honest, as are his underlying confidence and willingness to risk everything to pursue his dream. This adds textures to beautifully played scenes with Shipp and the particularly engaging de Jesus. And among an extraordinarily strong supporting cast, Light and Whitford do some terrific scene-stealing.
Essentially, this traces Larson's work up to the moment he started writing this piece. And because it's written from fresh experience, the feelings are remarkably intense. Each song carries a kick of energy and emotion, shifting between genres to continually connect with us in a new way. This brings both the narrative and the underlying themes to life in ways that dig very deeply indeed. And while Miranda's direction might be a bit gimmicky, he certainly knows how to locate the heart of the story.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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