tick, tick… Boom! – A Second Opinion

November 20, 2021
M.N. Miller 0
Film Reviews, Netflix, Streaming Service


Andrew Garfield’s poignant exploration of Jonathan Larson’s persona and professional struggles is remarkable.

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Andrew Garfield’s poignant exploration of Jonathan Larson’s persona and professional struggles is remarkable.

This review of Netflix film tick, tick… Boom! does not contain spoilers. 

I’m not sure how tick tick… Boom! will play in mainstream America. It has a who’s who of Broadway royalty making cameos that I’m sure only the most ardent melophiles will appreciate. I mean, in the much talked about diner scene alone, you have Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters, Renew Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, Roger Bart, Andre Se Shields, Beth Malone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Joel Grey, Phylicia Rashad, Bebe Neuwirth, and of course, director, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Does the ordinary person even know who originally created Rent, or that he died before its release? What may be universal to everyone is about never giving up on your dreams.

Miranda’s film is based on Jonathan Larson’s first produced musical of the same name. An off-Broadway production after struggling for the majority of the 1980s of just scraping by. Larson is played by Andrew Garfield, who has created quite a track record since the Spider-Man disaster. It explores not only his personal but professional troubles, even though he calls himself the self-proclaimed savior of musical theater.

He mooches off his girlfriend, Susan (a wonderful Alexandra Shipp), who supports him without receiving much back. She has reached a point in her life where she is looking for steady work, and he still has his head in the clouds. Larson has hit a creative rut and had an extended stay with writer’s block. His best friend, Michael (Robin de Jesus), tries to get him to work writing jingles, but he won’t hear of it.

Layered in Steven Levenson’s excellent script is that Larson lives in a time where the social issues of homophobia and multiculturalism are rampant. Still, in this film, they are embraced with a community he has immersed himself in. His friends are all members of marginalized groups. Some keep falling ill to a new disease called AIDs. This is expertly divided up in flashbacks of performing the stage play, Larson’s early struggles with his career, and relationships.

And that is what makes tick tick… Boom! so unusual. Garfield plays Larson as insufferable. That’s because he is. Don’t get me wrong. He is a sweetheart. But he only thinks of himself 99% of the time. He ignores his girlfriend, sick friends, and family, so he solely focuses on his dreams that leave his personal life in shambles. It’s beautifully honest and surprisingly forgiving.

But let’s face it, people watch musicals for the songs, and Lin-Manuel Miranda honors Larson’s work by showcasing the composer’s genius. Therapy, performed by Garfield and Vanessa Hudgens, is infectious. Sunday is a beautiful homage to a mentor (and frankly, savior), Stephen Sondheim (played by Bradley Whitford). Then, to cap everything off, Why aptly caps a film showing Miranda’s strength as a musical director.

We talked about Garfield, but let’s give credit to two others. Judith Light is dynamite as Larson’s absent but supportive agent, Rosa Stevens. It’s a great role I wish many will give her more credit for. And lastly, Robin de Jesús steals every scene he is in. He is the heart and soul of the film—the pragmatist. A gay man maturing in New York City who is struggling and his best friend has blinders on. What makes life worth living, family, friends, having children, sex, and love, are all mostly not available to him, denied to him, or have dangerous consequences.

tick tick… Boom! is not your typical musical, but it’s a passionate one with a live-wire pulse. The performances, the production, the music, and embracing the flaws that make us human make Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tribute to Jonathan Larson one of the year’s most enjoyable and moving films.

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