Tick, Tick… BOOM! is streaming now on Netflix.
On the morning the groundbreaking rock opera RENT was to debut off-Broadway in 1996, its creator Jonathan Larson suddenly died aged just 35. Larson had suffered an aortic dissection possibly caused by an undiagnosed genetic disorder. RENT had been a labour of love for Larson, a personal reimagining of La Boheme set in New York against the backdrop of HIV and AIDS. The musical would go on to achieve considerable success before landing a movie adaptation in 2005 – a success Larson worked so hard to achieve but would never see.
However, while RENT will always be the musical creation most associated with Larson, it was far from being his only work. Long before RENT, there was Tick, Tick… BOOM! an autobiographical musical/stand-up show, and the George Orwell-inspired Superbia. Both were labours of love for Larson while he worked as a waiter at the Moondance Diner in New York’s SoHo, his bohemian home life and desperate need for success surrounded by a trademark artistic poverty. It’s here where Lin-Manuel Miranda’s outstanding directorial debut begins. The year is 1990, and Jonathan (Andrew Garfield) is about to turn 30, with his musical Superbia still in development eight years after graduating from Adelphi University on Long Island, Larson is stuck in a rut, the clock ticking as he ponders his birthday and the elusive hit he dreams of.
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In a cluttered loft apartment, he shares with his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) and his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús), Jon dreams of success, devoting every penny to the planned workshop of Superbia due to take place. But when his girlfriend accepts a job outside the city, and Michael starts work for an advertising agency, Jon’s bohemian life suddenly becomes solitary. And as Jon struggles to complete Superbia, it feels as though his dreams are floating away as everything changes around him.
In telling Jonathan’s story, Lin-Manuel Miranda cleverly uses his biographical musical Tick, Tick… BOOM! as a narrative device alongside his first musical, Superbia. As a result, Tick, Tick… BOOM! is built upon a series of flashbacks and vignettes, carefully weaved together to create a luscious tapestry of Jon’s life before RENT. In doing so, Miranda has the creative freedom to craft fantastical sequences built on Jon’s imagination and energy – a point emphasised by the opening statement, “Everything you’re about to see is true, except for the parts Jonathan made up.” The result is a glorious celebration of Larson’s story and creativity told through his eyes and imagination.
TICK, TICK…BOOM! (L-R) Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson, Alexandra Shipp as Susan in TICK, TICK…BOOM! Photo Credit: Macall Polay/NETFLIX ©2021
Miranda’s vision would not work without Andrew Garfield’s energetic and electric central performance. Throughout Tick, Tick… BOOM! Garfield embodies Jon’s boundless enthusiasm, from his love of art and culture to his belief in music as a tool for social change. Garfield brilliantly reflects the whirring and unsettled mind of a creative genius, with every interaction the spark of a potential song or story. Maybe the depth of Andrew Garfield’s performance comes from a similar creative drive to that of Larson; after all, Garfield is also a whirlwind of talent, from a stunning west-end performance in Angels in America to a fantastic catalogue of film and TV performances. In fact, I often find myself asking whether there is anything Garfield can’t do.
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Tick, Tick… BOOM! bounces from a nostalgic homage to a reflection of a changing creative scene in New York, joyfully defying the usual tropes of the biography and the film musical and becoming something genuinely unique. It is, therefore, disappointing that Tick, Tick… BOOM! has arrived on Netflix with little fanfare, an ongoing problem for straight-to-streaming movies denied a cinematic release.
Tick, Tick… BOOM! is heartfelt and beautiful – a love letter to creativity from one Broadway writer to another sadly no longer with us. The result is one of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s most colourful, celebratory and joyous films, held aloft by Garfield’s electric performance.
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