A snarling rock opera of sorts, fueled by Armstrong's rancor over both his father's death and the political paranoia of post-9/11 America, the Grammy-winning "American Idiot" album elevated Green Day from bratty pop rebels to broadly respected musicians. It's fitting that, having already made over their image in the music world, the same album proved to be their ticket into the more genteel medium of musical theater. On the one hand, the transition made sense: Chronicling the travails of a frustrated small-town inhabitant, named Jesus of Suburbia, through dense songcraft, "Idiot" was always a highly narrative, melodrama-tinged piece. On the other, the band's raucous sound, coupled with Armstrong's recklessly atonal vocals, could hardly be further from show-tune territory.
While the film features plenty of footage of propulsive public performances (including a thrilling collaboration between the cast and Green Day at the 2010 Grammy Awards that immediately predated the show's Broadway debut), its trump card is its access to rough rehearsal-room experiments like the rearrangement of the band's song "Last Night on Earth" into a hushed, Phil Spector-style soul number. Though the film paints an unreservedly rosy picture of the show's development -- if any creative disagreements surfaced along the way, they've been left in the editing suite -- it's still rare to see the nuts and bolts behind any stage musical, much less one this unorthodox, exposed quite so generously. The actual storyline of the musical is only revealed to viewers at the halfway mark; an earlier explanation might have added resonance to some of the film's initial musical performances.
The unlikely but increasingly firm friendship between Armstrong and the show's arch, elegant director Michael Mayer emerges as the film's principal human dynamic, particularly as Mayer coaxes the reticent rocker into playing a key supporting role in the production. Armstrong's bandmates and the show's gifted ensemble -- led by John Gallagher Jr., now recognizable as the star of acclaimed independent film "Short Term 12" -- are comparatively backgrounded figures, though the impression of tightly knit teamwork is maintained throughout.
Tech package, including Dan Krauss' bright, hi-def lensing and crisp sound recording of onstage and offstage action, is tidily televisual: It's the show's artistic virtuosity, rather than his own, that Hamilton is out to showcase.