Tick, tick…Boom! (2021) Film Review B

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Affectionate Tribute to Jonathan Larson.

Composer Jonathan Larson died at the tragically early age of thirty-five. The autopsy showed that the cause of death was a dissecting aortic aneurysm. This happened just before his magnum opus “Rent” opened in 1996 and transformed the Broadway musical. Lin-Manuel Miranda was one of the many young talents whose lives and careers were influenced and or changed by “Rent.” Almost twenty years later, in 2015, Miranda created his pop culture phenomenon, “Hamilton,” writing the script, music, and lyrics. In 2008, he made a Broadway splash by starring in and writing the music and lyrics for “In the Heights.” This was released as a movie earlier this year.

Now, Lin-Manuel Miranda repays the compliment, making his directorial debut adapting Tick, Tick… Boom!”. It’s a tribute musical constructed around Larson’s songs and musings from 1990. He was about to turn thirty and was so depressed that he had nothing to show for his efforts at this critical milestone. The movie is constructed as a flashback from 1992 when Jonathan performed his “rock monologue” “Tick, Tick….Boom” in front of an audience at the New York Theatre Workshop. Accompanied by his friends Roger (Joshua Henry) and Karessa (Vanessa Hudgens), he describes the events in the week leading up to his 30th birthday. The first song is appropriately titled ”30/90.

This sounds like a complex set-up, but Miranda’s movie works by keeping the basic storyline simple and low-key. He is helped immeasurably by a streamlined script courtesy of Steven Levenson (“Dear Evan Hansen”). Andrew Garfield gives a beautiful performance as Jonathan.

tick, tick...Boom!

As the seven-day countdown begins, we see him juggling work at the Moondance Diner in SoHo. This is the setting for the song “Sunday,” in which the “Diner Ensemble” is filled with New York musical theatre glitterati in everyday garb. You get to play spot the celebrity!

Bradley Whitford does a very credible impersonation of Larson’s idol, Stephen Sondheim, who is wonderfully wise and encouraging. Meanwhile, Jonathan’s girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp), frustrated by his indecisiveness and obsession with his career, breaks up with him (cue “Therapy”). In contrast, his gay best friend Michael (Robin de Jesus), who left acting for the more lucrative career of advertising (cue “No More”), has just moved out of their shared apartment for flashier digs on the Upper East Side.

And then there is the New York City of 1990. A city whose theatre community has been decimated by AIDS, and Jonathan struggles with the dichotomy of giving birth to a new musical. At the same time, several of his friends have died or are dying (cue “Play Game”).

Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson in

To the best of my knowledge, Andrew Garfield has never done musical theatre, but he’s a natural or, at least, he’s a great actor playing a natural. His gangly frame moving with loose-jointed awkwardness is infectious, and whether behind or in front of the piano, he is the heart and soul of someone who lives for music. He can also carry a tune. Although we know the eventual outcome, no excellent tragedy awaits us at the movie’s end. It is a celebration of the life of someone who has given joy to thousands of theatre and moviegoers.

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