Synopsis: A semi-autobiographical musical, Tick, Tick…Boom! tells the story of Jonathan Larson, the famed composer and writer of the mega-hit musical Rent. Throughout the film, we watch as Jonathan (Andrew Garfield) struggles with finding creative relevance in his life as he approaches his 30th birthday, not having had a single success in his musical writing career. Over the course of a week, we see the toll the impending birthday takes on Larson as he prepares for the first preview of his new musical, hoping that this will be the turning point in his creative career.
Breakdown: Tick, Tick…Boom! is not for everyone. It is a movie about musical theater nerds, written by a musical theater nerd, directed by a musical theater nerd, and starring some notable musical theater nerds. It is a niche film in every since of the word, and, to be honest, that is a real shame. Because it is a really wonderful piece of art that is going to turn a lot of people off who don’t typically love musical theater.
The musical that the film is based on was initially conceived as a one-man show; a series of engagements where Jonathan Larson tells a fictionalized version of his life before he had any major success. Shortly after his untimely death, the show was revised and revamped to become a three-person musical, with one actor portraying Larson and the other two mainly portraying Michael (his best friend) and Susan (his girlfriend), along with all of the other minor roles.
The musical was revamped once again for this film adaptation, and the changes that were made to the script and the format of the story really work here. First-time director Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Encanto, and In The Heights), took the structure of the three-person performance and built a believable and emotional snapshot of life in New York in the early 90s. Part performance, part biopic, the directorial choices made by Miranda make this seem like an intimate glimpse at personal videos of Larson’s, not a movie adaptation. There is a sense of reality in the camera work and the editing, not to mention the way the movie jumps from Larson performing these stories for an audience and actually living them out. It makes the film feel urgent and real. Furthermore, superb choices like filling the diner with Broadway legends during “Sunday” really show the level of love and care Miranda has for musical theater history and really elevate the source material to even greater heights.
Speaking of Miranda, I have mixed feelings about him as a writer and as an actor. Some of his music is the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard (looking at you “Dos Oruguitas” and “Dear Theodosia”), but his shtick as gotten a little old and I’m ready for a break. But as a director? He absolutely knocks it out of the park in his first attempt, and I can’t wait to see what he does as a director next.
As a man in my mid-thirties (yikes), the main plot of Tick, Tick…Boom! really resonates with me. There is something that happens when you turn 30 years old–you are too old to not have some success under your belt, but you are too young to really know what you are doing. And there is a lot of anxiety that comes from that. This film really made me take a step back and look at my life: what have I accomplished? What will people remember me for? Is this really all I have to give back to the world? Not to mention the fact that I was in theater in high school and, not that I would have had any sort of fame or success had I stuck with it, but gave up acting and performing for a job in advertising… just like Michael (Robin de Jesus).
The songs, one of the most important parts of a musical, are really just fine here. You hear glimpses of the greatness that would come later with Rent, as if Larson was already toying around with ideas and riffs and arrangements for his magnum opus before he even knew he was. However, except for a few stand outs, there really isn’t anything that even really reaches the heights of Larson’s more famous work. But honestly, the greatest thing about this film, besides the direction, is Andrew Garfield’s performance as Larson himself.
Garfield is absolutely effortless here. He doesn’t even look like he is trying, and not in a bad way. His performance is one of the key ingredients that makes this feel not like a film, but a true glimpse at Larson’s life. Add to that the fact that Garfield had never professionally sung before this movie was made and it is honestly mind-blowing how good he is. He expertly shifts from goofy to manic to emotional to loveable, all while singing some of the most nonsensical lyrics and songs I’ve ever heard. His recent Golden Globe win is absolutely deserved and hopefully puts him on the path to Oscars glory later this year.
de Jesus as Matthew, Alexandra Shipp as Susan and Vanessa Hudgens as Karessa round out the cast and do an admirable job, again lending credibility and realism to the story at hand. I particularly enjoyed de Jesus’s performance, particularly towards the end of the film when things take a very serious turn. What a gut-punch of a performance, especially between him and Garfield.
Verdict: I’m honestly a bit conflicted about this film. Parts of me loved every single part of it; while parts of me were a little underwhelmed by some of the choices made in the writing and the crafting of the story. The thing is, I can’t stop thinking about the movie. And that’s why I find myself a little disappointed in it; I want more people to see it. But it is so overly musical theatery that I just feel it won’t get the attention it deserves. It will win awards; it already has, and will continue to do so. However, in terms of greater audience appeal, I just don’t think it will get there. That’s not the fault of the film, though, so I suppose in terms of the merits of the movie itself, I can’t recommend it enough. Garfield’s powerhouse performance and Miranda’s beautiful direction are reason enough to watch this film.
Mark Pereira is a senior writer for Boss Rush Network. He loves all video games, but his top three favorites are Skyward Sword, Super Mario 3D World and Batman: Arkham Asylum. You can find him on Twitter where he’s usually talking about Nintendo, video games, movies, and TV shows.
Featured Image Source: Cinematographe