Friday, December 3, 2021

Tick, Tick... Boom! : Movie Review

Not your typical biography-musical.
Thanks to the pandemic pushing back In the Heights, we get two Lin-Manuel Miranda musicals in one year. Miranda’s over-prevalence has dropped his popularity and musicals are barely popular in the first place. Tick, tick… Boom! is going to be a tough sell on so many levels. Not the least of which is the fact that this is a low-key musical with no spectacular productions like In the Heights or Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story.   2021

Directed by: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Screenplay by: Steven Levenson
Based on the musical by Jonathan Larson

Starring: Andrew Garfield

It’s a biopic-musical about a guy the average person is only vaguely familiar with. People will know Rent, but that’s the only thing that really hit pop culture. Jonathan Larson's second most famous work is Tick, Tick… Boom! a semi-autobiographical musical about an aspiring composer doubting his artistic talents and ability to make it in the industry.

This Tick, Tick… Boom! has a wonderful rhythm which Andrew Garfield carries with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s narration/singing style. But it does have a strange structure intercutting between Jonathan Larson as a character in the story of his life (living in West SoHo, roommates and girlfriends moving in and out of his life, and his struggle to create the rock musical Superbia) and to him alone on center stage narrating the story of his life.

There’s a surrealness to the movie that can make it hard for the audience to get into, and there’s also a quietness which is antithetical to the musical genre and Jonathan Larson’s personality – this is a person who I don’t think ever stopped moving, talking, creating. He’s an arrogant, determined, whirlwind of a crazy guy who refused to let life pass him by. Andrew Garfield is able to keep up with him, but it’s also in the quiet moments that the film earns its emotion. It’s in the quiet moments where his friend Michael (Robin de Jesus, known for Boys in the Band) tells him he’s HIV-positive and Jon’s heart breaks for somebody other than himself.

The film is driven by Larson’s belief that his window for making it on Broadway is coming to an end. After all, he’s turning 30, has no published credits to his name and he’s 3 years older than Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford in mentor role) was when he made it. He believes he has an expiry date. He’s talking about an artistic or success expiry date, but again that surrealness comes in since viewers know Jonathan Larson did have a shortened window, dying of an aneurism at 36 before Rent premiered to the public.

Tick, Tick… Boom! is not your average for musical for better or worse, but Jonathan Larson is also not your typical subject. Theater geeks will likely love this with a lot of historical references, Sondheim popping in, and it feels more intimate than Rent or his half-finished plays can offer. Biography and musical is a tough line to balance and this does so in a unique manner.