Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, Joshua Henry, Judith Light, Vanessa Hudgens, Bradley Whitford, Joanna P. Adler, Noah Robbins, Ben Levi Ross and MJ Rodriguez
On the cusp of his 30th birthday, a promising young theater composer navigates love, friendship and the pressures of life as an artist in New York City.
The film follows Jon, a young theatre composer who’s waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 while writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. With the clock ticking, Jon is at a crossroads and faces the question everyone must reckon with: What are we meant to do with the time we have?
Tick, Tick…BOOM! is the film adaptation of the autobiographical musical of the same name of Jonathan Larson, adapted to screen here by Steven Levenson, and directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, making his directorial debut. We focus on Jon in New York, 1990, who waits tables at the Moondance Diner and also, in his time off, attempt to write the next great musical for Broadway. The problem is Jonathan Larson has been waiting this potentially great musical, Superbia, for eight years and is nearing his thirtieth birthday. Days before he’s due to showcase his work in a make-or-break performance, Jon is feeling the pressure from everywhere, from his girlfriend Susan, who dreams of an artistic life beyond New York City, from his friend Michael, who has moved on from his dream to a life of financial security, amidst an artistic community being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. With the clock ticking, Jonathan is at a crossroads on whether or not he finally make that big break.
To say that 2021 has been a busy year for Lin-Manuel Miranda would be an understatement. His musical In The Heights got the big screen treatment, he also voiced the titular character and compose the music for Vivo, as well as compose the music for Disney’s upcoming Encanto, and finally, he has time to make his directorial debut. While I was expecting a familiar musical biopic in the vein of Bohemian Rhapsody in focusing on the rise and successes of the artist, what makes Tick, Tick…BOOM! really interesting is instead it focuses on the trials of tribulations that Jonathan Larson goes through before he would become a Tony Award winner and also earn a Pulitzer. We follow Larson as he goes through the anxieties of trying to create something that could change the world, using the likes of Stephen Sondheim as inspiration, while trying to maintain a relationship and friendships along the way. The film has a lot to say about the mind of an artist, and how sometimes along the way they can lose sight of what really matters. This is pointed out across the film in how Jonathan Larson is panicking about not achieving his dreams before his thirtieth birthday, while friends within his circle of connections/theatre community are dying before even reaching their thirties due to the AIDS epidemic.
The film is well directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, particularly in the scenes involving the musical numbers like ’Swimming’ involving a swimming pool, to how the ’Therapy’ song is edited between Susan and Jonathan, with Jonathan and Karessa on stage. Credit most also go to co-editors Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum for how they manage to make the jump back-and-forth between Larson’s stage show and the lead-up to it feel smooth and transition in a way that the audience can keep up with it. What really brings the film home here is Andrew Garfield’s performance, he’s absolutely fantastic here and you can tell from his commitment to the portrayal of Jonathan Larson that he gave it his all, right down to putting his voice out there, which I didn’t think he had in him, a pleasant surprise. In the supporting cast, Robin de Jesus really shines with his performance as Jonathan’s best friend Michael, Alexandra Shipp gives a really good performance as Jonathan’s girlfriend Susan. As enjoyable as I found the film, there is some executions of a few of the musical numbers that didn’t really work for me, particularly that of ‘Sunday’ in the setting of the Moondance Diner, and I can’t tell if it’s due to the song or how it’s presented visually.
Tick, Tick…BOOM! is an entertaining musical biopic of Jonathan Larson with a final act that absolutely stuck the emotional levels for me. While not every single song worked for me, it’s a solid directorial debut from Lin-Manuel Miranda, with an award-worthy buzz performance from Andrew Garfield.