I just turned 30. I don’t want to talk about it. However, within seconds of tuning in to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut Tick, Tick… Boom!, it’s clear that turning 30 is all the protagonist is thinking about. In his mind, he’s running out of time. He is a storyteller, but he doesn’t even know what story he wants to tell.
That storyteller is playwright Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield). He is a man who some consider as one of the most passionate playwrights within the American musical canon. Many people speak his name with reverence in Broadway theatres and theatre departments all over the world. Rent, Larson’s legacy, is a game-changing piece of art that will remain a fixture of HIV/AIDS Awareness for decades to come. Unfortunately, Larson passed away the day of Rent‘s first Off-Broadway preview performance. A genius was taken away from his craft too soon.
Over a persistent ticking sound, Miranda tells the story of a young creative desperately trying to make his dreams come true in the performing arts. Larson is hellbent on getting his Broadway musical Superbia produced. From trying to impress Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford) to going over his budget, his vision comes before all else. From the musical’s hopeful and energetic opening number, “30/90” to the immediately engaging “Johnny Can’t Decide”, watching Garfield lose himself in who Larson was from day-to-day is gripping. Garfield’s chameleon-like talent mixes with Miranda’s genuine admiration for Larson to create an iconic fictional hero, dying to achieve his dream.
Assisting Garfield in his endeavor to honor both Larson’s life and career is a breathtakingly talented supporting cast. Seeing Joshua Henry, best known for his role in Hamilton, play John’s backup singer and overall supportive pal is refreshing. Alexandra Shipp lights up the screen as John’s fed-up girlfriend, begging for him to pay attention to her wants and needs. Vanessa Hudgens’ powerful voice is on full display in the power ballad “Come to Your Senses.”
More importantly, however, is the influence the LGBTQ+ community has on John’s life. His best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús) is looking to transition to a career in advertising to make ends meet before testing positive for HIV/AIDS. Additionally, John’s co-worker Carolyn (Mj Rodriguez) has the misfortune of standing beside him at the funeral of several friends succumbing to HIV/AIDS. Going into the film knowing Larson eventually creates Rent, the HIV/AIDS epidemic looms over the story in a way that feels foreboding and tragic. Miranda and screenwriter Steven Levenson create a story bursting with creative energy while at the same time, shrouding it in sadness and loss.
Garfield reportedly logged hours studying the musical performance for his role and it pays off. He grabs ahold of the role of Larson and transforms himself. His enthusiastic performance is dripping with conflicting emotions and the common struggles of a young creative. Anxiety due to fear of failure is an issue many in the arts live with. However, Garfield’s iteration of Larson uses that feeling as fuel to continue to create. Quitting is never an option he considers.
Tick, Tick… Boom! is a musical masterpiece and a powerful directing debut for Miranda. At times, the feature feels more like a fluid concert feature rather than a routine biopic. Best of all, it’s a beautiful homage to musical theatre and the beauty behind creating it. The movie is an artistic achievement that will be celebrated by lovers of musical theatre for decades to come. – Christian Hubbard
Tick, Tick… Boom! premieres on Netflix on November 19th.
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