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As someone who studied theatre in the mid-1990s, I couldn’t help but be aware of the work of Jonathan Larson. Specifically, his musical “Rent” would be come an important part of my (and everyone that I knew) collegiate experience. It was the first musical with which I ever genuinely identified, capturing my attention – and my heart – in a way that no such work ever had before. Or has since, as far as that goes.

I didn’t come to experience Larson’s previous work, the semi-autobiographical one-man (more or less) musical monologue “Tick, Tick … Boom!” until years later. I was older, though no wiser – closer to the age that Larson was when he creatively exploded – and engaged with it in a more “mature” way.

A film version of “Tick, Tick … Boom!” wouldn’t have made a lot of sense to me at that time. How would you even do it? How would that work? Particularly when you take into account the tragic and abrupt end to Larson’s life.

Happily, Lin-Manuel Miranda had some ideas.

Miranda makes his feature film directorial debut with this screen adaptation of “Tick, Tick … Boom!” Adapted by Steven Levenson, it is an adoring and energetic love letter from one theatremaker to another – there’s a clear and obvious reverence at work here – that goes a long way toward capturing the kinetic and sonic excellence of Larson’s work.

It’s also a sincere appreciation for the difficulties that can come from devotion to the act of creation. The single-mindedness required for genuine brilliance often causes ripple effects throughout the rest of the creator’s life, impacting all aspects of their world in what too frequently turns out to be a negative way. That dichotomy – the rush of creation versus the struggles of reality – is front and center here, presented romantically, yes, but also with a touch of melancholy.

Published in Movies
Monday, 27 September 2021 15:11

Dear ‘Dear Evan Hansen’

Dear “Dear Evan Hansen,”

It turns out that this wasn’t an amazing movie after all. It isn’t going to be an amazing adaptation that will capture the imaginations of viewers, even those who adore the original stage musical version. Nor will it prove to be the financial windfall that is almost certainly its raison d’etre.

And why is that?

Oh, I know. Because there’s Ben Platt. Ben Platt, who won the Tony for originating the titular role back in the middle of the 2010s. Ben Platt, who absolutely should have known better, who should have had the self-awareness to recognize that an unmistakably adult man in his late 20s cannot plausibly play a high school student on screen. Maybe if I had a preexisting relationship with this musical, I could move past that, but since I don’t, all I see is a bordering-on-sociopathic narrative playing out with an energy that feels both maudlin and parodic.

I wish that this experience had been different. I wish that I could focus on the aspects of it that worked – for instance, the music is undeniably lovely – but instead, I am trapped in the uncanny valley of pretending Ben Platt is a teenager. I wish that director Stephen Chbosky had proven successful in his attempt to marry his own specific style of angsty teenage drama to the broad spectacle of musical theatre … but he did not. Instead, we got an obvious attempt to ground the story in some kind of realism, despite the fact that a) the narrative is too fundamentally broken to treat realistically, and b) dramatic intimacy is fundamentally undermined by the constant breaking into song.

Published in Movies

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