Led by a virtuoso lead performance from Andrew Garfield, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tick, Tick…BOOM! will more than appease fans of the Broadway show but also welcome newcomers to the mind of Jonathan Larson.
Garfield stars as Larson, a struggling musical theater writer who can’t catch a break. For the last eight years, he has been working on the adaption of his rock musical Superbia while working at a diner in the Soho district of New York City in 1990. He is joined in his squalor by his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesus), work friends Carolyn (Mj Rodriguez) and Freddy (Ben Levi Ross), and his longtime girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp), who works as a dancer.
Jonathan struggles with an upcoming workshop of his show but still needs another musical number to round it out. While suffering from crippling writer’s block, he questions joining the workforce alongside Michael while also being pressured by Susan to get a teaching job outside the city. All of this is happening the week before he turns 30 years old.
The film cuts between the events of this week and the actual performance of the titular rock monologue. Some events occur with music overlapping the events, while others turn into fourth-wall-breaking musical performances. As the HIV/AIDS epidemic rages, will Jonathan’s showcase finally bring him the success he craves, or will he have to accept reality and move on with his life?
Larson is best known to the mainstream as the creator of Rent, one of the longest and most successful stage musicals in history. This is made apparent from the first moments of the film, and the rest of the film, you keep wondering when his big break will come. All the while, Larson’s gleeful exterior, and interior sadness shine through and eventually show him as an immensely talented but ultimately tragic figure.
Miranda struggles a bit when the film is a straightforward narrative without any flair. Luckily for the audience, that rarely happens. The visual language of how Jonathan creates his music as well as his passion for his craft is strong. Additionally, the portrayal of early 90s New York City shows the grit and grime of anyone outside the lap of luxury, but also never demeans the city or its inhabitants.
Garfield appears in almost every scene and is nothing short of utterly captivating. His strong voice and lanky frame lend themselves very well to musical theater. His optimistic sadness and his feeling of destiny immediately place the audience on his side, even when he doing some things that aren’t all that redeeming.
de Jesus delivers the strongest as a man who is past the point of dreaming and has settled into the comfort of corporate life. He still keeps his presence in both sets of his life so it never feels phony. Shipp toes the perfect line of the long-suffering girlfriend and supportive partner. This role could have easily turned into a wet blanket, but Susan’s desires are never anchored to what Jonathan’s success is looking for.
Other cast members include a breezy performance from Judith Light, a half-asleep Stephen Sondheim impression (on purpose) from Bradley Whitford, and a welcome burst of dynamic energy from Vanessa Hudgens. The rest of the cast is filled with vibrant bit parts, including a wide array of Broadway stars in cameo roles.
While not perfect, Tick, Tick…BOOM! is the perfect showcase for Andrew Garfield’s best performance to date. With catchy songs and a dreamer’s mentality, audiences should enjoy the life, legacy and music of Jonathan Larson.
All 2021 Reviews