Film

Don’t Look Up

24/12/21

Netflix

It’s Christmas Eve, so of course we all want something cheery and cuddly to watch… right?

Adam McKay’s Don’t look Up may just qualify as the least likely candidate for a fun Christmas movie in the history of such things, and yet this whip-smart, prescient and funny satire somehow hits all the right buttons to provide an evening of entertaining viewing.

Scientist Doctor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) is initially excited when one of his students, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), discovers a new comet in the solar system, but he’s rather less pleased when their projections suggest that said comet – a massive heavenly projectile – is due to collide with planet earth in something less than six months’ time. This will be an extinction event.

Understandably spooked, they contact an expert, Professor Teddy Oglethorpe (Ron Morgan), with their findings and the three of them alert the White House. Initially, they are treated like a trio of cranks. President Orlean (Meryl Streep) is much more interested in her mid-term prospects, currently on the skids since she’s been found emailing pictures of her ahem… lady parts… to a her boyfriend. Orlean’s son, the Trumpian Jason (Jonah Hill), appears to have the intellect of a sandwich toaster and is more interested on what’s trending on social media than any upcoming real-life calamity.

But the reality slowly dawns. This is actually going to happen…

So who is going to save the world? Could it be the powerful mobile phone entrepreneur, Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), a cross between Elon Musk and Tim Cook? Or maybe the vacuous (but influential) pop star, Riley Bina (Ariana Grande), who can at least compose a saccharine song abut what’s happening? And what about the callous, self-regarding chat show host, Brie Eventree (Cate Blanchett), or her smug co-presenter, Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry)?

Then President Orlean realises that she might be able to manipulate the approaching catastrophe in order to improve her own ratings. As the comet inexorably approaches, nobody seems able to agree on a sensible course of action…

Don’t look Up is played for laughs, but it’s ridiculously easy to spot the real life targets McKay has in his sights and, wild as this all is, it’s scarily believable. Substitute the word ‘comet’ for say, ‘pandemic’ or ‘global warming,’ and you’ll see the same cast of characters strutting their stuff: the scientists, the non-believers, the conspiracy-theorists and the tech billionaires, all determined to turn any disaster to their advantage.

McKay walks a perilous tightrope to a suspenseful conclusion that is both devastating – and, at the same time, devastatingly funny. Okay, like I said, not everybody will want to stomach this Netflix Original production quite so close to Christmas. All that turkey and mincemeat might be enough to swallow right now. But as you head into the New Year, be sure to tune in. It’s simply too good to miss.

And make sure you watch till the very end…

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Spider-Man: No Way Home

17/12/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

I’ve seen most of the superhero movies and the one franchise I consistently enjoy is Spider-Man. I suppose it makes perfect sense. I was a big fan of the comic books back in the day and the films – all three of the major strands – have always had that lightness of touch that somehow steps aside from the pomposity of so many Marvel projects. Played mostly for laughs, the ‘Spidys’ have a levity about them, as their young protagonist goes about his heroic duties, whilst trying to woo his girlfriend and ensure that he gets a proper education.

I was somewhat apprehensive when I picked up on the various rumblings about the Multiverse (inevitable, I suppose, after the success of Lord and Miller’s wonderful Into the Spider-Verse) and also, the heavily-trumpeted presence of a certain Doctor Strange, but, as it turns out, I needn’t have worried. While this is undoubtedly the most complex Spider-Film to date, the sparky script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers manages to keep things moving briskly along. Every time a scene threatens to become too portentous, they throw in a snarky comment or a bit of tomfoolery and everything blurs back into motion. The two hour running time is never allowed to drag.

No Way Home picks up at the cliff-hanging moment where Far From Home left off – with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) being publicly outed. The ensuing fallout from that event kickstarts the new film straight into action and it barely stops to take a breath. It all feels horribly real as Peter, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) are trolled, mocked and despised by the right-wing buffoons who have been listening to shock-jock, J. Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons). It’s weirdly prescient.

Feeling cornered and understandably worried about those he loves, Peter has what he thinks is a brilliant idea. He approaches his old pal Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asks him to reverse time (as you do) so everyone will forget that he’s actually our favourite neighbourhood web-slinger.

Needless to say it’s a very bad idea.

Strange’s celestial tinkering accidentally opens a breach in the Multiverse and, almost before Peter knows what happening, he’s being pursued by adversaries from across time – they include Doc Octopus (Alfred Molina), the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) and many, many others, most of whom are astonished to find that Peter doesn’t look anything like the man they remember, but are perfectly happy to try and kill him anyway. Luckily, he doesn’t have to fight them off single-handedly, because he’s offered help from an unexpected quarter…

As is so often the case with these movies, there’s an extended super-powered punch-up at the conclusion, but even this is saved from becoming tedious by liberal deployment of the aforementioned witty dialogue – and there’s a surprisingly poignant coda to the film, which ties all the multifarious strands neatly together. Holland has hinted that this may be as far as his involvement will go and I have to say, if he does choose to step away, he’ll be leaving a very accomplished trilogy to remember him by.

Mind you, it’s clear that this won’t be the end. A post-credits teaser dangles the dubious prospect of a Spawn/Spider-Man mash up, which really isn’t something I relish, but Sony are bound to want to involve their other big-selling franchise at some point, so we’ll see what happens on that score.

Those who are willing to stay in their seats till the credits stop rolling will be rewarded with a trailer for the upcoming Dr Strange movie, which looks… strange, to say the very least.

But meanwhile, No Way Home is well worth your attention. Even unapologetic spandex-haters should give this one the benefit of the doubt. Because, you know what? It rocks.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

West Side Story

16/12/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Though an admitted fan of musicals, Steven Spielberg has never attempted one: until now, that is.

It’s perhaps typical of the man that he’s taken on one of the most acclaimed musicals in history and he’s quick to point out that this reboot isn’t based on Robert Wise and Jerome Robin’s 1961 motion picture, but on the original stage version, created by Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents. In essence, the great director hasn’t changed so very much. The setting is still New York, some time in the 1950s, but here, we’re made aware from the opening sequence that the neighbourhood is undergoing major demolition in order to accommodate the building of the swishy new Lincoln Centre. The place is already doomed.

Spielberg has also settled some worries from the original film version, where white actors wore brown makeup in order to look ‘authentically’ Puerto Rican. He’s also added a non-binary character called Anybodys (Iris Menas) and has left some stretches of Spanish dialogue un-subtitled, relying on non-Spanish-speaking audiences being able to work out what’s actually being said. But mostly he’s left it to the sweeping cinematography of Hanusz Kaminsky and of course that series of solid gold songs to carry us through a world of finger-clicking dance routines and declarations of eternal love.

There’s part of me that wishes he’d tinkered a bit more than he has. But still…

I won’t waste time on needless plot details. If you’re familiar with Romeo and Juliet, you pretty much know what to expect.

The Romeo figure here is Tony (Ansel Elgort), recently released from prison after one punchup too many and literally towering over his diminutive love interest, Maria (Rachel Zegler). But of course, Tony is a former member of The Jets gang, while Maria’s brother, Bernardo (David Alvarez), is the leader of their Puerto Rican rivals, The Sharks, who hate all Jets as a matter of principle – and the feeling is mutual.

It can only end in bloodshed.

West Side Story 2021 is handsomely mounted and uniformly well acted – Ariana DeBose as Anita is a particular standout – and it’s also lovely to see Rita Moreno (who played Anita in the 1961 film) cast here as Valentina, the owner of the local drug store, from where she delivers her own haunting version of Tonight. But the film is at its best during the big ensemble numbers – a rousing rendition of America, played out on the busy streets of New York is fabulous and the climactic rumble between the two gangs, in a deserted salt warehouse is also visually striking.

What’s more, Spielberg even manages to make the cheesy I Feel Pretty – a song that has previously brought me out in hives – much more palatable, by the simple expedient of setting it in the flashy department store where Maria and her girl friends work – as cleaners.

So why does the film fail to thrill me? It could be, I suppose, that there are simply too few surprises. Perhaps if I were seeing the story for the very first time, I’d be more excited, but apart from some judicious airbrushing and those magnificent production values, I’m suffering from a bad case of ‘seen it all before.’ Viewers who weren’t even born in 1961 will doubtless have an entirely different view of it.

In the end, I admire it… but I don’t love it.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Lamb

15/12/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Hear that rustling noise?

It’s the sound of many tourists frantically crossing ‘a visit to Iceland’ off their bucket lists. It’s not that the place isn’t geographically stunning. In Lamb, Eli Arenson’s cinematography shows it in all its misty splendour. But in Valdemar Jóhannsson’s debut feature it seems a dark and menacing place, particularly in the remote part of the countryside where a married couple ply a lonely trade as sheep farmers.

It’s lambing season and Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guõnason) are literally working around the clock, assisting pregnant sheep with the messy process of giving birth, something which is shown in considerable detail. And then one particular lamb is born and there is something about this one – something that spurs the couple to take it into their house, to feed it bottled milk and even to give it a name – Ada. It would be criminal to reveal any more than that, but suffice to say that Jóhannsson cunningly holds back on any explanation for quite some time. When the truth is finally revealed, it hits me like a sucker-punch to the gut and I find myself intrigued.

The sheep farmers’ idyll is rudely interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Ingvar’s younger brother, Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haradldsson), a former pop star turned full time wastrel. It’s clear from his first appearance that he and Maria have some history together, which makes things awkward. But what is Pétur going to make of the new addition to the family, particularly when he learns of the lengths that Maria has gone to in order to ensure she has no rivals for Ada’s affection?

Lamb lets the central couple’s backstory emerge at a leisurely pace and, though it skimps on detail, there’s enough for me to fill in the gaps. It’s rather like having just enough pieces of a jigsaw to reveal the outline of something distinctly unsettling.

This is a very unusual film to say the least. It plays rather like a contemporary fairy tale, full of forbidding imagery and, at times, almost unbearable suspense. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before . As the story unfolds, I find myself formulating various possible resolutions, but there’s no way I could guess at the direction in which Jóhannsson and co-writer, Sjón are ultimately heading.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Encanto

Cineworld, Edinburgh

06/12/21

As Disney celebrates its 60th anniversary, it’s interesting to observe how far it’s come in its efforts to celebrate diversity and in its depictions of the world’s different cultures. Encanto is a slice of magical realism, set in a fictional settlement hidden somewhere deep in the Colombian jungle. Gifted to its original settlers by unknown powers via a magical candle, and presided over by the stern Alma Madrigal (voiced by Maria Cecilia Botero), this is a place where the very walls and floors are sentient, moving to accommodate and assist all who pass through its doors. (Note to self: I need a place like this.)

Alma’s children and her extended family are blessed with bizarre magical ‘gifts,’ which range from super-strength to the ability to create exotic flowers at will. Only one of the Madrigals has missed out on these abilities and that’s Mirabel (Stepanie Beatriz), who tries not to feel left out as everyone around her performs eye-popping wonders at the drop of a proverbial hat.

Then one day, Mirabel sees something strange: the Madrigal’s beloved home breaking asunder as, for some unknown reason, it begins to lose its magic. She tries telling the others what she seen, but Alma instructs her, in no uncertain terms, to keep her mouth shut. Could it be that Mirabel is like her mysterious Uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), who also had dark visions, always got blamed when things went wrong – and eventually went missing?

As you’d expect from the House of Mouse, the animation here is dazzling and the many different characterisations are beautifully realised. Throw in some original Latinx-flavoured songs by man of the moment, Lin Manuel Miranda, and you have a rich and vibrant feast that seems tailor-made for festive viewing, even though there isn’t a snowflake or a sprig of holly in sight.

If Encanto has a weakness, it’s in its storyline.

While the film concentrates on the importance of family and how being ordinary should never be seen as a failing, the story’s narrative arc features no sense of threat, no real danger. The worst that can happen to the Madrigals is they might lose their fancy house and their super-powers and will have to content themselves with being just like the other people in their community. Which really doesn’t generate enough suspense to make me care enough about the outcome.

Perhaps I’m being churlish – and I’m hardly in this film’s demographic. As I said, the animation here is state-of-the-art and the music will have you dancing in your seat. If you have youngsters who need entertaining and you’re looking for a feel-good festive treat than Encanto could be exactly what you’re looking for.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

The Power of the Dog

04/11/21

Netflix

It’s been twelve years since Jane Campion directed a movie and now here’s The Power of the Dog, a ‘western,’ filmed in her native New Zealand, masquerading as Montana in 1925. It’s an interesting period in which to set a story. On the one hand we have cattle drives, carrying on pretty much as they have since the mid 1800s and, on the other, the streets are full of Ford automobiles, the new era clashing headlong with the old. Ari Wegner’s majestic cinematography recalls the best of John Ford, the machinations of mankind constantly in battle with the awesome wonders of the landscape.

It’s in this world that Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his brother, George (Jesse Plemons), struggle to perpetuate the traditions of their family business, but they are dinosaurs, doomed to yield to the changing times. This is the first film in which writer/director Campion has chosen to feature a male lead and Phil is, perhaps inevitably, the consummate toxic male: cantankerous, vindictive and quick to demolish anybody who offers an alternative to his established way of life. Phil refers to his brother as ‘Fatso’ – to his face – and is not slow to heap disdain on anyone who stands in his path.

When George unexpectedly marries widow Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), Phil is brutally critical of her, particularly when George encourages her to play the piano, something that she protests she’s actually not very good at. (She’s right, she’s not.) To rub salt into the wounds, Phil is an accomplished banjo player.

Rose has a son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who has a predilection for making paper flowers and who is quietly studying to be a surgeon. Phil initially takes every opportunity to belittle him, encouraging the other ranch hands to mock him, because of his supposedly effeminate mannerisms.

But Phil has a secret. He is openly in thrall to the late cowboy Bronco Henry, the man who taught him to ride a horse, a man who he still keeps a shrine to in the stables. But as the story progresses, it’s clear that there was something more between the two of them, something that Phil hides from the eyes of the world. When Phil appears to soften and takes Peter under his wing, the scene is set for a psychological drama with a conclusion that you probably won’t see coming. I certainly don’t. It’s only after the credits have rolled that I’m able to piece the clues together.

Cumberbatch went ‘method’ for this and he inhabits the sweary, sweaty, alpha-male world of Phil Burbank with absolute authority. You’ll almost certainly despise him, which is, I think, Campion’s aim. Smitt-McPhee creates an enigmatic persona as Peter, a boy who keeps his cards close to his chest.

It’s perhaps unfortunate that Dunst’s character feels somewhat overshadowed in this male-dominated world, a woman who will allow herself to be driven to alcoholism rather than stand up for herself. What’s more, Thomasin McKenzie, a rising star after Last Night in Soho, has a thankless role as a housemaid with hardly a line of dialogue. I guess that’s simply a reflection of the era.

Plemons, as the monosyllabic George, is nicely drawn, though he’s mostly absent from the film’s second half and I miss the silent confrontation between the two brothers, where I think the story’s true power lies. Jonny Greenwood – who seems to be popping up all over the place at the moment – submits one of his quirky soundtracks.

Once again, Netflix has backed a winner. The Power of the Dog is a handsome film, expertly created and a genuine pleasure to watch. Cumberbatch has been hotly tipped for an Oscar and it won’t be a huge surprise if it comes to fruition.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

House of Gucci

02/12/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

A talented young man is motivated by his manipulative wife to take hold of the power that lies within easy reach. He just needs to be ruthless in order to obtain it. Despite his qualms, he follows her advice and is led onwards to his own destruction.

This is, of course, the plot of Macbeth, but it’s also one that fits House of Gucci like a perfectly designed leather glove. Ridley Scott’s film, based on the book by Sara Gay Forden, relates the true life events that led up to the assassination, in 1995, of Maurizio Gucci, the major shareholder in one of the world’s most successful fashion brands. If proof were ever needed that real life can be weirder than fiction, then here it is, writ large.

When we first meet Maurizio (Adam Driver) it’s the 1970s and, though he’s well aware that he’s the potential heir to the Gucci fortune, he’s already decided he wants none of it and is training to be a lawyer. Then, at a party, he meets Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), who – having recognised the possibilities that Maurizo’s surname offers – has soon romanced him to the point where he wants to marry her.

Maurizio’s sickly father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), decides she’s a ‘gold-digger’ and advises his son to steer clear, but Maurizio is smitten enough to renounce the family fortunes in order to be with her. It isn’t long before Maurizio and Patrizia are married and a baby daughter is on the way. Meanwhile, she keeps reminding Maurizio that he needs to step up to the plate and take control of his inheritance…

After the assured (but sadly unsuccessful) The Last Duel, this film feels like another Ridley Scott body- swerve. He’s always been a director that refuses to be pigeon-holed and this really couldn’t be more different from its predecessor, but where TLD felt perfectly judged, HOG is just flabby and unfocused, a parade of caricatures cavorting in a series of fancy locations. It rarely feels like these people are real and have actual lives.

While Lady Gaga certainly puts in a game performance as the success-obsessed Patrizia, even Al Pacino as Maurizo’s Uncle Aldo struggles to rise above the clunky dialogue he’s been given.

And then there’s the enigma of Jared Leto as Aldo’s deluded son, Paolo, who fancies himself as a fashion designer but has no evident talent to back him up. It’s panto season, so perhaps that explains why Leto feels the need to deliver his lines in a kind of high pitched sing-song fashion, but it just seems… really odd. What’s more, with a two-hour-thirty-eight minute running time, there’s a lot here that should have been cut back. The film doesn’t really find its mojo until the final third, but by then it feels like a case of too little, too late. There’s a welcome appearance by Call My Agent‘s Camille Cottin as the new woman in Maurizio’s life, but she’s not given enough to do.

It certainly doesn’t help that most of the people involved are venal, unscrupulous capitalists and it speaks volumes when Pacino’s Aldo – an unapologetic tax dodger – emerges as the film’s most sympathetic character.

In the end, this is something of a disappointment.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

Petite Maman

24/11/21

Cineworld Edinburgh

Céline Sciamma’s last film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, was one of the most widely acclaimed releases of 2020, a sumptuous historical drama, which had plenty to say about the creative process and also offered a heartrending tale of forbidden love. My one regret at the time was that the restrictions of the COVID 19 pandemic meant that I could only view it on the small screen.

Petite Maman really couldn’t be more different from its predecessor. Shot during lockdown and using only a handful of actors, it relates its intimate story over just seventy-two minutes and yet, in its own muted way, it’s a magical experience, with a central premise that stays with me long after the credits have rolled.

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a little girl called Nelly (Josephine Sanz) accompanies her mother (Nina Meurisse) and father (Stéphane Varupenne) to the old woman’s house, somewhere in the French countryside, where they will spend time clearing out her belongings. Nelly’s parents don’t seem to be getting along too well and the rediscovery of her childhood belongings seems to make her mother melancholic. Left to her own devices, Nelly goes exploring the nearby woods, where she meets a girl her own age called Marion (Gabrielle Sanz). Marion is building a tree house and, almost without a word exchanged between them, Nelly starts to help her with the task.

It is apparent from the word go that something very strange is happening…

And it would be criminal to outline any more of the plot. Suffice to say that what transpires is an enchanting ‘what if’ story, and that Sciamma, who also wrote the script, offers us very little in the way of exposition and even less that might serve as explanation. She has the confidence to leave it up to the viewer to put the pieces together, which, because little clues have been expertly placed, is easy to do.

The two young actors are a joy to watch, their simple adventures delightful and, somehow, their performances hardly feel like ‘acting’ at all. Cinematographer Claire Mahon captures the events in a glowing, autumnal light that makes the incredible seem entirely possible. Watching this, I’m reminded of times in my own childhood, when a walk in the woods could take me to a place where my imagination would conjure the most wonderful adventures.

Petite Maman is simply enchanting and, given it’s brisk running time – a rare accomplishment in an era that sometimes seems incapable of creating any film shorter that two hours – it blows by like a wisp of gossamer: sweet, magical and beautifully understated.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

King Richard

21/11/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

King Richard is a fascinating biopic. The more obvious story belongs to Venus and Serena – and, of course, they’re very present here – but Reinaldo Marcus Green’s film, scripted by Zach Baylin, focuses instead on their father. It’s an astute move. We already know about Venus and Serena – their prodigious talent, their trailblazing, their gracious presence on the world stage. They’re wonderful, inspirational women. But they owe a lot of their success to their father, whose single-minded determination to raise champions has made him a controversial figure.

In King Richard, we are presented with a sympathetic view of a man who has often been depicted as overbearing and manipulative. It seems fair to assume that the man we see here, played with Oscar-worthy aplomb by Will Smith, is closer to the reality than some of the stories we have read. After all, Serena, Venus and their sister Isha are all listed as executive producers, which is about as strong as endorsement gets.

Richard Williams is a man with a plan. A serious, written-down, eighty-page plan. He might have spent his youth running from the Ku Klux Klan, being beaten up and fighting against adversity, but he wants better for his girls. Just because they live in Compton, where he and his wife, Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis), work long shifts in badly-paid jobs (she’s a nurse; he’s a security guard) and five kids share a bedroom, that’s no reason not to pursue your dreams. Richard knows that, if he wants doors to open, he’s going to have to knock loudly, because no talent scouts are coming to the local park to see eleven-year-old Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and her little sister, Serena (Demi Singleton), as they sweep the tennis courts free of leaves and then practise, practise, practise their game.

Of course, there’s not much jeopardy here, because we know how things pan out. Richard’s persistence pays off, and his daughters’ incredible talent is allowed to shine. What makes the story work is its portrayal of the battle, of how damned hard Richard has to work. I’m in awe of the courage it must have taken to boldly approach the most prestigious coaches of the tennis world and demand their attention. The Williamses don’t ‘fit in’ to the rich, white world of tennis, with its moneyed ritual of securing a certain type of coach before entering the right competitions, climbing through the ranks in the conventional way. They’re poor; they’re working class and – most obviously – they’re Black. But as soon as Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn), one of those prestigious coaches, sees them play, everything changes. Because Venus and Serena are spectacularly good.

Green manages to make tennis suitably cinematic, which is no mean achievement. I love watching the sport, but this isn’t the same as a match, and repeated shots of serves and volleys can quickly become dull. That doesn’t happen here, despite the two-hour-eighteen-minute running time. He never falls back on the most conventional device of a sports biopic – the ‘inspirational montage.’

Singleton and Sidney are perfectly cast. They nail the Williams sisters’ charming, sweet-natured but fiercely competitive spirits, and are a real delight to watch. And Smith’s Richard might well be generally sympathetic, but it feels plausible as well; he’s no hero or saint. Instead, he’s a bit of a windbag, a bit too self-important, heedless of his wife and as stubborn as a mule. But there’s no doubting his good heart, nor the sacrifices he makes to ensure that his daughters succeed without relinquishing their childhoods, that Venus and Serena not only have a better life than his, but pave the way for other Black girls to follow in their Reebok-prints.

4.1 stars

Susan SIngfield

tick, tick… Boom!

20/11/21

Netflix

Lin Manuel-Miranda is having a bit of a moment. After his breakthrough with Hamilton, it was perhaps inevitable that we’d be seeing a lot more of him, but, close on the heels of the filmed adaptation of his first theatrical endeavour, In the Heights, here’s his directorial debut. And, just over the horizon, lurks the Disney animation he’s created the music for – Encanto.

It would be hard to imagine a more appropriate director for tick, tick…. Boom! Here, the second musical by the late Jonathan Larson is turned into a production that’s about as meta as you could ask for: a show about a show about the creation of another show, Larson’s debut production Superbia. This adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, was something he spent eight years of his life working on, but was destined to be seen by only a handful of people.

It’s hardly a spoiler to point out that Larson was the creator of Rent and that he died tragically of an aneurism, at the age of thirty-five, the night before its premiere. The show subsequently went on to enjoy a twelve year run on Broadway, and won countless awards.

When we first encounter Jonathan (Andrew Garfield), he’s trying to write a song for Superbia and, like any real genius, he’s suffering for his art, eking out a precarious existence in his down-at-heel flat. He’s trying to maintain a troubled relationship with long-suffering girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Ship), and he’s working at a local diner earning the pennies to fuel his dreams of success. His best friend, Michael (Robin de Jesus), who he’s known since childhood, throws over his own long-nurtured ambition of becoming an actor and goes into the world of advertising, reaping himself a beautiful high-rise flat into the bargain. He offers Jonathan a way in to that world but Jonathan is adamant.

He will achieve his dream, whatever the cost.

Tick, tick… Boom! is all about the pain of artistic endeavour – the pursuit of success at all costs – and, inevitably, because we know what’s waiting for our hero a few years down the line, the whole enterprise seems shockingly accentuated. Brilliantly staged and easily accessible, TTB wastes no time in its setup but flings us headlong into Larson’s world. We see his story as presented by him and his fellow performers as a kind of rock-opera-workshop. The songs are accessible, the lyrics witty and relevant and Garfield is exceptional in the central role, piloting us to the dizzy heights and awful depths negotiated by any artist trying to be heard.

Those fearing that this will be unbearably ‘arty’ can relax. This is a story that covers all of the emotions from exuberant to poignant, and it would be a flinty heart indeed that doesn’t warm to a tragic tale of youthful genius that comes into flower just a moment too late. The spectre of AIDs hangs heavy over the proceedings – and, as some of Larson’s closest friends succumb to the illness, we begin to understand how Rent came to fruition.

‘Write about what you know,’ advises Larson’s elusive agent, Rosa (Judith Light). So he does – and finally finds the story that’s been eluding him for so long.

This is a delightful film, one that will strike chords with anyone who has striven to create art of any kind. Yes, there’s a deep vein of melancholy running through its heart, but just look and listen. There’s joy here too.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney