Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every week, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.
The Jonathan Larson Double Feature: tick…tick…BOOM! and Rent
For a man who only completed one major work, the name Jonathan Larson looms large over the American musical…due in large part to the fact that said work is Rent, the groundbreaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning musical. Larson’s family tried to score a second hit post-Rent (and post-Larson’s death) by reviving and “rearranging” Larson’s one-man show, tick…tick…BOOM!
Now audiences can enjoy both shows as major films, and observe the eerie way they compliment one another.
In tick…tick…BOOM! released to Netflix this year, Andrew Garfield stars as the angst-ridden composer struggling to break into the Broadway scene in the late 1980s. Despite some encouragement from his idol Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford), Jon can’t seem to get a foothold. His ongoing crisis begins to take its toll on his relationship with girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) and gay bestie Michael (Robin de Jesús). Amid his professional and personal strife, Larson becomes aware of a constant ticking…the sound of life passing by before the alarm finally tolls.
Rent, released in 2005 under the direction of Chris Columbus, reunites most of the stage version’s original cast to a modern version of La Boheme set in 1980s New York. By now the story is well known: a group of friends dream of becoming successful artists amid the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic. Over the course of a year, they find their relationships tested and contemplate the meaning of their lives in the face of certain death.
Much to our delight, in the hands of director Lin-Manuel Miranda and screenwriter Steven Levenson, tick…tick…BOOM! works even better as a movie than it did on stage. Garfield dives into the lead with total commitment and also proves himself a very capable song and dance man. The same goes for de Jesús, who gets his best movie role to date and gives a moving performance as a gay man facing the AIDS crisis. By contrast, Rent suffers from some boneheaded directorial choices by Columbus (starting with setting the movie in 1989; the stage version was set in the early 90s), and a tendency for the musical numbers to feel like a string of music videos. Still, the music is unforgettable, and the cast all embody their roles with depth and complexity.
Watching the two films back-to-back, it’s amazing to see how much of Rent is Larson’s real-life story, and how far he really had to go as a composer after writing tick…tick…BOOM! Together, they tell the story of a passionate artist who succeeded in changing the course of musical theatre history. One other fact becomes clear as well: Larson’s untimely death at age 36 just prior to the opening of Rent deprived the world of someone great. Watch these movies, and continue to mourn his loss.
tick…tick…BOOM! streams on Netflix.
Rent streams on Amazon, Hulu, Starz, YouTube, iTunes and VUDU.
Note: This article contains portions of previous posts on Queerty.