tick, tick… BOOM! film review (2021)

In a tribute to the late, great Jonathan Larson, Lin-Manuel Miranda crafts a touching tribute to a man who, although obsessive and reckless, had a true passion for musical theatre. Andrew Garfield’s performance is fantastic and his singing voice was a huge surprise, helping elevate most of the musical numbers.

2021 has been an absolutely massive year for Lin-Manuel Miranda. His first Broadway hit, In the Heights, was successfully adapted into a feature film and it so happens to be one of my favorite films of the year. He’s also the songwriter for Disney’s next animated adventure, Encanto, which is already getting plenty of buzz and praise. But, before it’s available for everyone to see next week, there’s one to watch right now, and I can’t recommend it enough. tick, tick… BOOM! is a pleasant surprise in more ways than one. I love musicals, so I was always going to see it. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, though. I was always aware of Jonathan Larson and what he was able to accomplish before his passing. What I wasn’t aware of is the struggles he had to go through to get there.

tick, tick… BOOM! tells the story of Jonathan Larson, a musical theatre hopeful who’s sort of in a mid-life crisis before even reaching 30. He’s been writing a musical for many years now and is hoping it leads to bigger and better things. However, he begins to realize his life hasn’t amounted to anything for all of this time and desperately dives into finishing his work, while risking the relationships he has in the process.

Andrew Garfield is absolutely masterful as Larson. I can’t say I knew what Larson was like as a person, but Garfield got the appearance down and really brought plenty of style and substance to this role. There are moments of charm, cleverness, humor, and downright talent. Who knew Garfield can sing so well? At the same time though, the film depicts him as a flawed individual. He was willing to risk everything he had, including his relationship with his girlfriend and his best friend, and take extreme measures in order to attain what he’s longed for his entire life. His personality was incredibly obsessive and, at times, a bit reckless. Kudos to director Miranda for being able to bring this kind of performance out of him. It may be his very best since Hacksaw Ridge.

Speaking more on Miranda behind the camera, I believe he transitioned fairly well into filmmaking, considering most of his work has been on stage and writing songs for other movies. Then again, although Jon M. Chu directed the film adaptation of In the Heights, Miranda was heavily involved in the creative process, which I feel helped him when creating the adaptation of tick, tick… BOOM! I truly hope this isn’t the last we see of Miranda as a director. The creativity he showed with his set pieces and the camera angles in this film are stellar. It’s honestly a bit surprising since it’s his directorial debut. It’d be interesting to see what he can do with a different genre. But, if he wants to make more musicals, I won’t complain.

Some of the other performances are pretty great as well. Robin de Jesus plays Larson’s best friend, Michael. I feel I haven’t seen de Jesus do much since his time on In the Heights while it was still on Broadway. He’s phenomenal as Sonny, and he brings the same energy as Michael. His dynamic with Larson is one of the best parts of the musical, such as seeing them in their best moments, but also their worst. Another fantastic portrayal comes from Alexandra Shipp as Susan, Larson’s love interest. You feel for her as the movie goes on since you understand why she feels a certain way towards Larson and all the decisions he’s making. She, too, also has a beautiful singing voice.

I wish we would’ve seen more from the rest of the cast in some shape or form. Both Joshua Henry and Vanessa Hudgens bring it in their singing roles, but I feel they were limited to just that. I was sort of led to believe, at least from the trailers, they would have a much more expanded role. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the segments they were in. I could say the same for the rest of the cast. Most have their moments and some cast members from the original Broadway run of Rent make some cameos, such as Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Wilson Jermaine Heredia. Even Christopher Jackson from both In the Heights and Hamilton makes an appearance, as well as Phillipa Soo and Renee Elise Goldberry from Hamilton.

In many ways, other than Shipp and de Jesus, this is a one-man show from Garfield. Without him and what he delivers, this movie doesn’t work. He plays a storyteller, an every day human being trying to make it, and he can sing with the best of them. It’s one of his most versatile performances ever, further proving why he’s one of the best actors working today and I truly hope he gets some awards consideration when the time comes.

Prior to watching the movie, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the music, at least from what I’ve heard of it. Granted, like most musicals and albums in general, you tend to enjoy some songs and musical numbers more than others. I can say the same for tick, tick… BOOM!, and the more I continued to watch and the more songs I listened to, the more it grew on me. It’s a different kind of musical, for sure, and it only showcases why Larson was so talented. The music sounds very similar to Rent and during the time both of these musicals were released, there wasn’t anything else like it on Broadway. The tone was a bit off with some of the musical sequences along with what was going on. There’s one song in particular where they’re going back and forth between the performance and an actual argument between Larson and Susan. The song sort of took away from the seriousness of the argument. At the same time however, it perfectly encapsulates Larson as an individual, showing how desperate he was and how he would take advantage of any situation as inspiration for his creative process.

tick, tick… BOOM! is not only one of the best musicals of the year, but one of my favorite films of 2021. Led by a tour de force from Andrew Garfield, he perfectly embodies the character of Jonathan Larson and what a complicated, but extraordinarily talented person he was. I wish he was still around to see all that he inspired and what his efforts were able to accomplish in this medium. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is eternally grateful, especially Lin-Manuel Miranda, who’s work with this project is sort of a love letter to Larson and his legacy, and more than likely inspired him to do what he has done.

Score: A


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