Tick, Tick…Boom! (2021)

“In eight days, my youth will be over forever. And what exactly do I have to show for myself?”

2021 has seen a resurrection of the musical. Normally, with so many comic book properties adapted and released each year, fans feel fatigued – watching the same basic premise play out where the hero ultimately saves the day and gets the girl. Not with musicals, not this year. Stage adapted films have swept up this year that has been overcrowded due to the ongoing pandemic with no concrete end in sight. 2021 can also be said to be the year of Lin Manuel Miranda. His first big hit In the Heights was a financial disappointment (HBO Max’s Day and date release schedule crippled any success this film would have) but a wonderfully made and acted film. Lin Manuel also has two films currently out (the second being Encanto) one in which he made his directorial debut – Tick, Tick… Boom!

What can’t Lin Manuel do? He can sing, act, write songs that touch the soul and now he may as well add director to that list of growing skills. Tick, TickBoom! Is crafted with the same carefulness as a stage adaptation. In a way Miranda makes the film feel grand and ambitious yet intimate, only giving us a peak at the genius of this true story based on the mind that gave the world Rent.

Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) is turning 30. A sense of existential dread washes over him, his youth is over. Pretty soon, he’ll start losing his hair, getting wrinkles and helplessly watch his metabolism get slower.  I can feel his pain – 30 is a taboo age, it can either be a turning point in your life giving some added motivation like the best is yet to come or in Larson’s case it can be detrimental – seeing himself as a failure who will be stuck working at a diner for the rest of his life. I lean on the side of optimism – seeing 30 as a fresh start, a new chapter in the book of life left to be written. Jonathan, not so much – Steven Sondheim (Bradley Whitford) made it by the time he was 27. 

One of the inevitabilities of life is time. Constantly ticking away – silent at times and louder more frequently in others. The ticking sound in Larson’s head signals time is running out to make his big break and finally show the world he isn’t a failure. He’s certainly validated in that feeling, always seeing a higher calling for himself. There is more to life than being broke, working at the Moondance diner and struggling to make ends meet. But even if Larson feels completely alone with the constant ticking, he’s surrounded by a group of close friends and a girlfriend that believe he will make it big.  

Jonathan is living with best friend Michael (Robin De Jesús) (based on Matt O’Grady), dating Susan Wilson (Alexandra Shipp) (based on Janet Charleston) working around the clock on his ambitious dream of becoming a playwright and watching many of his close friends contract the AIDS virus. Working on a musical for 8 years called SuperbiaTick, Tick… Boom! Follows Jonathan as he fails to catch his big break. 

As the audience, we know more than Jonathan Larson at this point in his life. We know he goes on to create Rent the musical that changed Broadway but for now we get to see him struggle and feel every emotion he feels – failure, disappointment, tick, tick tick; time is running out, he’s losing time going to the hospital, attending funerals, deciding on moving with Susan to a different location because of her new job, constantly calling his agent Rosa Stevens (Judith Light). Time according to Jonathan Larson, is not on his side. 

Beyond Miranda’s extraordinary direction, Tick. Tick… Boom! Is led by a powerful performance by Andrew Garfield. Who knew he could sing with that much range? I didn’t, and he sang every song giving the film an authenticity to it more so than if he lip synced it. Garfield easily conveys every single emotion showing his range as an actor. Most may know and were introduced to him as Peter Parker, but he continues to prove his talent (I think he was robbed of a nomination for his performance in The Social Network). His portrayal of Larson is Oscar worthy never.

Being a musical the formulaic approach Miranda takes feels familiar, each dramatic section of the film is closely followed by a song. Most of which don’t stand out the way they were meant to. Only 30/90, Boho Days, Sunday, Therapy, Swimming, & Real Life stood out the most. Not to say the other musical numbers weren’t good, they just didn’t have the same impact. 

Perhaps one thing Miranda does well with Tick, Tick… Boom! Is sprinkle in the influence that Jonathan Larson would use for Rent. From his failing relationship with Susan to his best friend Michael (among others) contracting HIV to his crappy apartment and living hour to hour. Everything that we see in the 121-minute window of Larson’s life is leading to Rent. He wasn’t supposed to make it big with Superbia – that failure was meant to be a steppingstone. 

Thematically, Tick, Tick… Boom! Is all about failure. While some may let failure eat them alive, discourage them and make them give up and settle for less than they deserve – not Jonathan Larson. He took that tough lesson and used it to his advantage – writing what he knows, using his experiences in life to create the biggest musical to Broadway. Life isn’t about the failures, it’s about failures, it’s about what we do after we fail and the lesson, we learn because of it that can be applied later. 

That’s the major theme in Miranda’s film, the minor theme revolves around following your dream. Destiny plays a major role I Larson’s life – he believed he was meant for more and he stopped at nothing to make those dreams a reality. If you have a dream, big or small, protect it, nourish it, put all your effort to it. Dreams aren’t half assed, they require hard work, knowledge, and discipline – Larson possessed the discipline but risked everything in the process.  

I’m trying to decide if I liked In the Heights more or Tick, Tick… Boom! Equally, they dazzle with choreography, direction, inspiration, and emotion. Based on real people and actual events, Andrew Garfield is marvelous in his leading role with a stellar supporting cast behind him. Not knowing anything of Larson before watching this film is the best way to discover this genius of a human being who could write a song about anything and anyone.

Written By: Steven Levenson

Directed By: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Music By: Jonathan Larson

Cinematography: Alice Brooks

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin De Jesús, Judith Light, Vanessa Hudgens

Where to Watch: Netflix

Release Date: November 12, 2021

Running Time: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

My Score: 4 out of 5

Based On: Tick, Tick… Boom! By Jonathan Larson

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