The past five years have been a heyday for Lin-Manuel Miranda. Since the meteoric rise of “Hamilton” in 2016 and his work on “Moana,” the last two years have been particularly monumental for his career. Not only with his magnum opus’ release on Disney+, but this year has reintroduced audiences to “In the Heights” and he’s worked on the Netflix movie “Vivo.” And this movie here is big for two reasons: it’s his directorial debut and a celebration of Jonathan Larson, who’s work on “RENT” was an inspiration for him.
Andrew Garfield plays Jonathan Larson, as he prepares for an upcoming Broadway workshop in the hopes of showcasing Superbia, a musical he’d been working on for years. While that’s going on, he’s pressured by his old roommate and longest friend Michael (Robin de Jesus) to participate in the focus group for his advertising company and the decision of whether or not he should move in with his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) for a job she’s taken as a dance instructor in the Berkshires. And looming over that is the ticking clock of Larson’s thirtieth birthday clouding his judgement.
Among the many surprises that can come from performances and casting, the biggest one for me was Andrew Garfield’s performance as Jonathan Larson. He really brought the prodigious artist to life in a way that perfectly reflects Larson, with scenes reflecting video of him performing the songs from “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” And the chemistry between him and his costars feels authentic; you believe that Garfield and Robin de Jesus have been friends for most of their lives. You believe that he feels for Alexandra Shipp and have been a couple for years. Vanessa Hudgens also comes to life in her musical role as one of the performers in Larson’s workshop. The movie also has a cavalcade of cameos from many Broadways stars like Philippa Soo, Adam Pascal, and Bernadette Peters that accentuates the film as a love letter to Broadway.
For his directorial debut, Lin-Manuel Miranda delivers a love letter to Jonathan Larson with a story that is timeless and relatable. It’s all too easy for this to just focus on how “RENT” was created, but this shows how that and Larson’s other work was timeless and years in the making, with allusions sprinkled in that will make your die-hard RENThead gleeful. And the themes of feeling like time is running out speaks true for many millennials and artists and feels like a rebuke of society’s romanticization of youth.
I’ve said it before that it’s a love letter and for good reason. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Andrew Garfield bring the music and man alive in this homage to Broadway and Jonathan Larson. With amazing music and direction, the admiration and celebration to Larson’s legacy speaks louder than any words could do justice.