Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Writer: Steven Levenson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Joshua Henry, and Vanessa Hudgens
This year has been pretty phenomenal for big-budget musicals as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda. Bringing us back to the big screen was In the Heights, the adaptation of Miranda’s first stage musical. He also wrote the music and starred in Vivo. To top it all off his directorial debut, the adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick… Boom! has reached Netflix after a very limited cinema run. Jonathan Larson, the writer of the renowned musical Rent, didn’t live long enough to see the impact on the world. Sadly, he died in the early hours of Rent’s first Off-Broadway preview performance. Tick, Tick… Boom! isn’t about that though, even though it touches on his death and legacy, this is a celebration of Jonathon Larson’s life and art.
The film is set in the week prior to Larson’s (Andrew Garfield) 30th birthday, which coincides with a workshop for his musical Superbia, that he has been working on for the previous eight years. It’s a make of break moment for him, as he puts the rest of his life on hold so he can focus on writing the missing pivotal song for the second act. His girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) has been offered a job that would mean moving away and is waiting for Jonathan to tell her what he thinks she should do. His best friend, Michael (Robin de Jesús) has moved to a new apartment and is trying to tell Jonathan something but hasn’t had the opportunity. The pressure is building, and Jonathan can’t finish the song, with only days left until the big day.
The title references the ticking inside Jonathan’s head. He sees turning 30 as the end of his youth and is worried that he is running out of time to make something of himself and create the art he feels he was born to make. Early in the film he compares himself to successful writers who had achieved so much more than him by the same time in their lives. It’s something that a lot of people, especially creative people, feel at one point or another. There’s never enough time to do the things you want to do. The tragedy in this situation is that Larson died so young, and as the narrator says, with so many questions left to ask.
Andrew Garfield is simply stunning as Jonathan Larson. He’s performance is powerful and emotional. There are moments where I had goosebumps watching it. You can feel his pain and struggle with finding the time to see Susan and Michael, work his diner job as well as finish his musical. It’s a lot of pressure that builds up, at the same time the ticking in the background appears over and over throughout, creating that sense that the world is closing in on him.
The music is catchy and up-beat and really flows throughout the film. There isn’t really an ear-worm type song that will stay in your head long after the film has finished, but they perfectly fit the story at the time, and you get caught up in them while they play. Lin-Manuel Miranda has done a fantastic job with directing, at points it feels like a stage production on screen, which is perfect for something like this. The semi-biographical film is intersected with narration that gives you an insight into what would happen after the events shown and how ground-breaking Rent would be. Throughout the story it also breaks away to a recreation of a production of Tick, Tick… Boom! that Jonathan Larson staged in the early 90s. It gives you a feeling of who the man was, the actual stage production of Tick, Tick… Boom!, as well as being something that stands alone as an entertaining musical about life, art and the world around us.
The film isn’t just about Jonathan, the people around him feel just as important. One of the reasons he feels the pressure he does is because of the aids epidemic. He’s seen his friends die; one is currently in the hospital. It’s a heart breaking and very real tragedy that completely grounds the musical magic. Michael at one point gives an empowered speech about how the world treats him for being gay, and what that means. It’s a powerful and emotional point in the film that resonates today, thirty years later. Robin de Jesús is excellent as Michael, not just in that moment but every time he’s on screen.
Even if you have no idea who Jonathan Larson is, or what he created, Tick, Tick… Boom! is still a captivating and inspirational film. It’s a celebration of life and it works on so many levels. This is the best musical of the year, probably of the last ten years.
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