Special Agent Cooper’s review published on Letterboxd:
*** EDIT: I'm keeping my original review and viewpoints below for archiving purposes, but I've pretty much turned the corner on any concern I had about his "30 fixation" on first watch. After watching this film a few times, I really think it did a wonderful job of exploring how the people around him countered and challenged that viewpoint. It's just a wonderful and moving picture that feels a little closer to perfect every time that I take it in. ***
NEW THOUGHTS ON REWATCH:
So much of this movie is about the pulls of love and fear on life, as called out specifically in the script. Both through Garfield's insanely spirited performance and Miranda's direction, does this film succeed heavily in showing love and fear. Love of the theater, art, writing, friends and hope for success. Fear of time, failure, giving up one's dreams, the effect of the AIDS epidemic, etc. That the film handles these opposing draws so well is probably its main success, apart from the simple awesomeness of Garfield's performance and the songs. The only part that still feels like a drawback to me is just how maudlin the film decides to become and linger on as a tone for a couple songs in the row, late into the second act. Mostly, though? An incredible effective and emotional film.
Watching this in my mid 30's now, this story fixation on the built-in clock, the 30-year achievement benchmark, just feels too overblown to me for it to resonate in my soul... and yet, Andrew Garfield's outstanding performance and the catchy music and fun spirit of the production combine with a couple especially well done emotional moments to help convince me that it does truly does matter to the character. On some level, that's just as important to me and helps immerse myself in the intended spirit of the plot, as bizarre as it can feel from my perspective. I can't really sympathize here, but I can surely empathize. Larson's treatment of trying to reach a career pinnacle or standard by 30 feels like someone fearing the end of prime childbearing years or a mainstream pop singer worrying about how declining looks with age may affect their stage presence and fan appeal. Creators of art can create for years. That creative spark isn't just going to die at 30, and neither will their ability to write something great. The unfortunate irony to this is that Larson did actually die young unexpectedly, just a handful of years after 30 (in fact right around my own age), which does lend some incidental retrospective importance to his push to achieve success at an earlier age.
Either way, this film still definitely works for me on a surface level. Garfield turns in one of the stronger performances of the year, and the songs are super catchy. I'm not really a theatre person and don't have much experience with Rent or Larson's other works, but as someone who has been a musician since the late 90's and graduated university with a music degree, I can tell you that the songs are extremely well-constructed pop numbers with great hooks. Again, I don't have a ton of experience with musical theatre, much less the history of musical theatre, but I get the impression from the film that Larson helped evolve pop rock sounds more into the traditional musical landscape of musical theater. There's always something inspiring about watching someone who is very driven to make some sort of change or impact in the world, even if only for a limited group of devoted fans.
Last minute add-on thoughts: An enjoyable watch... and while this isn't quite my #1 favorite film of the year, I do think Garfield has given the singular most impressive and memorable performance of the last year that I've seen.