Tick, Tick… Boom! is one of many film adaptations inspired by musicals and this one sheds light on the creative process and its struggles of the musical’s writer and subject, Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield). Larson was known for writing the musical Rent which is one of the most popular and loved by people across the world. What people may not know is how Larson struggled to make it big in the musical theatre world which is what Tick, Tick… Boom! explores. The musical follows Larson who is trying to get his new musical approved and funded by respected members in the Broadway community including figures like Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford). The musical in itself is brilliant and acts as a fantastic tribute to the world of musical theatre and the people who helped build it to what it is now.
When deciding to adapt the musical, it seems only natural that Netflix would choose someone who is just as prolific in the musical theatre world and who else to choose than the incredibly talented Lin-Manuel Miranda. The mind behind In the Heights and Hamilton and songwriter for Moana and Encanto, Tick, Tick… Boom! marks Miranda’s directorial debut and he delivers, marking his talent behind the camera with a stunning debut. Miranda’s passion for the musical and its subject is evident and it comes across in how he captures Larson’s perspective of the world and the magic and imagination of musical theatre with contrasts of the reality that Larson is living as he struggles to afford his rent and bills and is losing friends to HIV and AIDS amidst the epidemic. Miranda transports us to early 1990s New York and combines the original musical format that sees Larson and his costars perform onstage and recite the stories in a traditional setting with stagings of the events to keep it equally gripping.
There is no doubt that this film belongs to Andrew Garfield who is captivating and perfect for the role of Larson. Arguably Garfield’s career best performance and one that is sure to bring him a lot of attention this award’s season, his portrayal of Larson feels well-rounded and fully realised. He doesn’t always make the smart choices but his intentions are pure as his passion for music and musical theatre thwarts his love for everything else and we get to see the rewards and consequences of this. We feel the elation as Larson gets closer to achieving his goals such as his promising interactions with Stephen Sondheim while also witnessing the losses and downfalls as he comes to terms with the deaths of his friends with scenes such as his emotional encounter with best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús) who has recently discovered that he is HIV-positive. Garfield is magnetic from the first shot to the last and makes use of every scene in between. Not only does he pull off the performance fantastically but his singing voice is brilliant as well which makes it a great watch.
Alexandra Shipp plays Jonathan’s girlfriend, Susan, who is a dancer looking for a stable job following an injury that has put a spanner in her career. It is clear that Susan loves Jonathan and appreciates his talent but when Jonathan begins to neglect Susan and disregard her needs and the decision regarding her offer to teach full-time which would result moving out of state. Where Garfield’s performance sees Jonathan’s head in the clouds, Shipp’s performance weighs him back down to reality which makes their pairing a perfect match. The scene in which Jonathan imagines Susan singing “Come to Your Senses” and Shipp’s performance perfectly conveys the pain that her character feels as she had no choice but to follow her path despite her love for Jonathan.
There are plenty of great supporting performances that allow Garfield to shine even more. These include Vanessa Hudgens as Jonathan’s costar and actress, Karessa, who has the role as the female protagonist in Larson’s musical, Superbia, that he is trying to get funded. Hudgens doesn’t have a lot of screentime but she makes the most of the time she does have. Her performance of “Come to Your Senses” which plays alongside Shipp’s is beautiful and although it plays up the performative aspect of the number more than Shipp’s which leans more into the emotion, it shows the ability that the song has to exist both as a tribute to Susan as a character and as a musical number.
Since the film is a musical, it is important to talk about the music. As expected with a Larson production, the musical numbers are fantastic and filled with plenty of nuance and emotion. Tick, Tick… Boom! not only includes songs about Jonathan’s perspective and struggles to write a song but there are also a couple of songs included from the musical that he is trying to complete within the film. The songs are mainly sung by Jonathan but there are plenty of numbers that incorporate other cast members. One such highlight is “Sunday” which sees Jonathan escape his job for a moment as he imagines a life where he can mingle among Broadway stars. Jonathan sings in the diner as the patrons are all Broadway stars, many who Miranda has previously worked with before such as Phillipa Soo and Renée Elise Goldsberry, and other Broadway heavyweights including Phylicia Rashad, and Bernadette Peters. Not only is this number filled with stars but the performance itself is packed full of passion as it laments on the dreaming a life that is worlds apart from the one that Jonathan leads.
In a year that has seen a lot of musical film adaptations released, Tick, Tick… Boom! does a great job of standing out from the crowd. This film marks Garfield stepping out of his usual dramatic comfort zone and shows that he can lead a musical while Miranda shows his talents as director as his vision has been perfectly realised. Miranda merges reality with fantasy as Larson’s world begins to turn and transform to the world inside his mind. With scenes like “Sunday”, this is a film that demands multiple viewings and shows Larson’s talent as a pioneering figure in musical figure and the interesting portrayal of himself including his flaws.
What did you think of Tick, Tick… Boom!? Let me know in the comments below!
Tick, Tick… Boom! is available to stream on Netflix now!