“I’m the future of musical theater…”
Genre: Adaptations Of Autobiographical Musicals
Release Date: 2021
Where I Watched: Netflix
Story: Jonathan Larson is about to turn thirty- mazel! But he feels like a failure; his idol Stephen Sondheim had done so much more at that age. Jon’s been working on a musical for the last eight years, and now that it seems as though a workshop is on the horizon, his life starts to crumble. His girlfriend may take a job in upstate New York, his BFF gives up on theater and takes a job in advertising, and another friend is hospitalized with complications due to AIDS. 1990 is shaping up to be the year Jon has to make Big Decisions…that he doesn’t want to make.
Talky talk: I love the theater. I love Broadway. But I seldom get my seat in a seat. Why? Because I’m a little bitch? No. Because I’m a lazy little bitch. I hear great things about a show, make a mental note…and then find some way to talk myself out of taking the Amtrak/driving to DC/calling up an Uber to get to the Hippodrome. I promise to do better, but for now it is what it is, and I tend to get my fix thanks to proshots and film adaptations. Boom, of course, fits into the latter category, and it’s a prime example of how to do stage-to-screen right.
First off, it’s directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has a eye for bringing that chills-down-your-spine feeling of watching live talent into the little (or big, do you) box you stream stuff on at home. Miranda’s got his usual blend of dramatic moments and joie de vivre, adding the pins-and-needles feeling of anxiety Jon constantly lives with as everything around him is simultaneously coming together and falling apart. As Larson and Miranda both have a modern take on musical theater – Larson is the guy who wrote Rent, if you didn’t know – Miranda is able to take the fast-talking, fast-singing, breakneck plot and make it all make sense. Boom clocks in at just shy of two hours, yet the time flew by thanks to the wonderful combination of excellent direction and top-quality talent.
The cast is mainly theater diehards, or theater-adjacent, so they all not only know Boom‘s main story of how it feels to try to make it in the business, they’ve all got the exact right pipes for the musical numbers, and definitely play to the cheap seats. No, not on overdrive like the Dear Evan Hansen adaptation (bless its heart), but rather they imbue their singing with the right amount of emotional gravitas, and then just a whisper more, so you can’t help but be pulled into each moment. Huge kudos to Vanessa Hudgens, who stood toe-to-toe with outstanding Broadway stars like Joshua Henry and Robin de Jesús, and held her own. I’d love to see her do live theater, she definitely has the chops for it. Plus, as a supporting character in Boom, she does good work without pulling focus from the main characters.
Which brings me to Andrew Garfield. He’s done plenty of theater work, and has a Tony, a Drama Desk, and a slew of other theater wins and nominations under his belt. But I never thought of him as a musical guy, thanks to my lack of knowledge. But damn if he doesn’t do Jonathan Larson justice. I mean, he’s definitely got the hair for it. But Garfield taps into Larson’s frenetic anxiety, balancing hopefulness and nihilism in a way that was endearing. For a story about a man’s true coming of age, you’ve gotta give a damn about that character. Garfield makes sure you do.
This is a movie musical for folks who love musicals, for folks who love theater in general, and for those who love a good story well told. Even if you’re not really down with the singy-singy, the performers in Boom will pull you into their lives, so when they sing? It’ll mean something to you, because it means something to them. Got your award season ballot around somewhere? Make sure you leave a couple spots for Boom.
Come for: The chance to watch an award winning musical biography from the comfort of your own sofa
Stay for: That incredible Larson harmonizing, and all the theater star cameos, because LIKE WHOA