Let me be perfectly blunt, right out of the gate: I’m not a fan of musicals. The idea of people bursting into song and dance outside of a professional setting is baffling to me and prevents me from enjoying the genre. There are exceptions to this statement of course, such as Rocketman and La La Land. Now, I can add Tick, Tick…Boom! to that list. This Broadway-centric piece shattered my expectations and delivered one of the best films and performances I’ve seen this year.
Tick, Tick…Boom! is a musical biopic directed by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda (his directorial debut behind the camera) and stars Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson, the Broadway writer who penned one of the most iconic and beloved Broadways of all time: Rent. The movie rewinds the clock a few years and showcases Larson’s earlier work, especially his eight-year crusade to complete the dystonia musical Superbia and how his thought process would eventually bring him to working on Rent.
The film is split between Larson’s time on the stage performance of Tick, Tick…Boom, with Larson on stage giving a musical monologue about his life, and a primary storyline set a few years prior. Between songs and storytelling on stage, the action flashes back to the time leading up to his 30th birthday, before he had yet to make a name for himself. Flat broke, Larson is just days away from his first Broadway workshop. Only he’s stuck with writers’ block on one particular song. Struggling over the course of roughly one week, he becomes obsessed with the creative process and the fear that his life’s work will be for nothing, all while juggling a major change in his personal life with his girlfriend, Susan (Alexandra Shipp) and the health of one of his friends, Freddy. His best friend, Michael (Robin de Jesús), a former actor himself, works at a fancy marketing firm and has gotten himself out of poverty as a result and is trying to save Larson from being homeless, as that’s a very real possibility Larson faces in the midst of this creative crusade. But Larson is so close to realizing his vision. Despite being able to come up with a random jingle on the spot, he can’t get this last song off the ground and he’s been working on this story for eight years and there’s the chance that it will all have been for nothing. That sense of fear, combined with the creative drive, is a huge part of the film and it’s the most fascinating part.
So let’s get it out of the way: Andrew Garfield shines in this movie. He plays a man full of passion for his work and is so invested in it, to the point where he sometimes has blinders up to those around him. He also sings his own songs as opposed to dubbing them, giving the performances in the movie an authentic charm. The music is broken up between in-universe numbers (on stage or in rehearsals) and the typical Broadway musical bits, which almost seem to be how Larson would have viewed the world. When you live and breathe Broadway, of course, you’d view the world as a musical, so the random “break out into song and dance” bits actually felt organic and logical. Shipp as Susan is also great. She has her own goals and dreams and despite her love for Larson, finds herself at a crossroads between chasing her own dreams and supporting Larson and his dreams. Her frustration with Larson feels very justified, as does her struggle with what she should do with her own life.
Likewise, Lin-Manuel Miranda showcases he has a real eye for directing in his debut. The camera feels kinetic and involved with the music, even when there is no music. The dialogue, penned by scriptwriter Stephen Levenson, is often snappy too, with plenty of quirks, which complements the personality of Larson and the friends and peers he interacts with wonderfully. The music is also quite catchy for the most part, with the common themes being addiction to technology and the fear of unfulfillment of one’s own life being dominant, but I wouldn’t recommend the film solely on the music alone. The movie also feels like a huge snapshot of theatre life and those who have worked in that field, whether at the academic level or professional, will definitely appreciate this film’s depiction of that life and the people who bring theatre to life. Also, for fans of Broadway, there’s a musical number in there that’s made just for you.
I think overall Tick, Tick…Boom is maybe five-ten minutes too long, as it feels like the ending is being evaded a few times in the final stretch, but that’s the only real negative I can say about the film. Garfield shines and should be a contender for Best Actor at the 2022 Oscars and Miranda has proven that his amazing creative skills translate to behind the camera as well. Tick, Tick…Boom is a wonderful biopic that really dives into the creative process of creating art. It’s also a very entertaining musical and one I would definitely recommend watching.