Tick, Tick… BOOM! is showing 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 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 most associated with Larson, it was not his only work. 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. Meanwhile, his home life was a whirlwind of creativity and poverty coupled with a desperate need for success at any price. 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 developing eight years after graduating from Adelphi University on Long Island. While undoubtedly talented, Larson is stuck in a rut, the clock ticking as he ponders his birthday and the elusive hit he dreams of creating.
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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 narration device while dovetailing this with the creation of 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. Here, 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
However, none of this would 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. Here 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 movie and TV catalogue and, now, musical theatre. In fact, I often find myself asking whether there is anything Garfield can’t do!
Equally stunning is Miranda’s direction as Tick, Tick… BOOM! bounces from a nostalgic homage to a man who never got the praise they deserved to a reflection of a changing creative scene in New York. Here, Tick, Tick… BOOM! joyfully defies the usual tropes of the biography and the film musical, 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.
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Tick, Tick… BOOM! is heartfelt and beautiful – a love letter to creativity from one Broadway writer to another no longer here. But it’s also an emotional journey into beginnings and endings, foreshadowing a life and talent cut short while celebrating the joy they brought into our world. And trust me, it’s not just musical-theatre fans who are going to want to watch this film again and again. For Lin-Manuel Miranda’s colourful, celebratory and joyous film is one of the best of the year and one of the most creative. While at the same time, Garfield’s electric performance is undoubtedly worthy of more than a few award nominations.
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