Tick, tick… BOOM! is the directorial debut of musical maestro Lin-Manuel Miranda, now showing on Netflix. It follows the true-life story of theatre composer Jonathan Larson, the man behind the hit musical Rent, in his early days as a struggling artist in New York City. Featuring some fantastic songs and a star turn from Andrew Garfield, Miranda’s debut is an ode to musical theatre, it’s just sadly lacking a little heart and extravaganza.
Andrew Garfield stars as Jon Larson in the weeks leading up to his 30th birthday. He’s a struggling artist in New York City who has been writing his first musical, Superbia, for the past 8 years. He’s prepping for a workshop and presentation for his musical, which he hopes will propel him to his first Broadway show. His relationship with girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) is struggling – she’s been offered a teaching job in the Berkshires, but Jon’s obsession with his work is distracting him from making a decision on their future.
Meanwhile, Jon’s childhood friend and flatmate Michael (Robin de Jesus) is moving out, having given up his acting dreams in favour of a well-paid job in advertising, and a number of his and Jon’s other friends have fallen ill and died due to the AIDS epidemic. The clock is ticking for Jon as the date of his presentation and 30th birthday draw closer. He’s struggling to write a crucial song for the second act of his musical, despite finding inspiration for countless other songs in his daily life. After his personal relationships fracture and crumble around him, Jon is able to summon the creativity and inspiration he needs to finish his musical.
I’m a huge fan of musicals, although my knowledge of musical theatre is incredibly lacking. I’ve never seen Rent and have never heard of Jonathan Larson, so I went into this fairly blind and with minimal expectations. The end result is both a wonderful tribute to musical theatre and also a warning of the pitfalls of the life of a struggling writer, complete with some very catchy and well-written songs. The songs really are great and the story within a story narrative style works really well with how the scenes and songs play out. However, some of the songs do feel a little unnecessary as they don’t do anything to further the story.
Andrew Garfield is the star of the show here. I would never have thought such a role would be in his wheelhouse, but he’s a natural and I can’t imagine anyone else playing this role better. He’s captivating in every scene and has an incredible energy, as well as a beautiful voice and some pretty nifty moves. He’s ably supported by Robin de Jesus as best friend Michael, who brings some much-needed heart and emotion in the final act. This is one of the things this film is lacking early on, the emotion just isn’t present no matter how much the songs claim otherwise. Also deserving a notable mention is Bradley Whitford as Stephen Sondheim, who is superb as the late composer, despite only having a few minutes of screen time.
As his directorial debut, Lin-Manual Miranda shows some promise, although I did feel like some of the direction and cinematography is lacking in the grandeur and extravagance that you’d expect from musical theatre. It sometimes feels a little too muted, although the clips of the real-life Larson showing over the end credits did well to highlight just how close and true to life this film was. I just wish they’d gone into more detail on Larson’s life after Superbia – they concentrated too much on this one musical, whereas for a musical theatre novice like myself it would’ve been great to see more of his life as it got closer to Rent.
Tick, tick… BOOM! is an enjoyable film that is a must for fans of musical theatre, and a worthwhile watch for Andrew Garfield’s performance alone. It’s got some great catchy songs, but is lacking in the folly and heart you’d expect from a musical.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!