Written by: Steven Levenson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Joshua Henry, Vanessa Hudgens
The road to becoming a successful artist does not come with glitz and glamour, except for the help of some good ol’ nepotism or other sorts of connection. It takes arduous work, not enough compensation, and the willingness to turn down other stable options in this dangerous pursuit. Tick, Tick… Boom! serves as a love letter to those who give up so much to achieve it all, which gets beautifully captured in this wildly entertaining, fun, and emotionally moving musical.
With others around him making important decisions in their lives, Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) soon approaches the age of 30 and takes a look at his life as a whole and he will move forward. This all comes on the heels of a production he has dedicated eight years of his life to being presented at a workshop which could potentially send his career into overdrive.
Life as a struggling artist comes as nothing new, it remains a world of dreamers hoping to make a statement to everyone with their art and this feature has no qualms showing the alienating nature of it. This difficulty makes life a bit difficult for Jonathan as he tries to balance the relationships with those around him while also trying to finally make it with this particular path. It becomes all the more difficult to swallow when seeing others succeed, but it is coming in the avenue outside of the art world and living a luscious lifestyle because of it. The life of an artist, yet one he chose as this film works as an introspection of it all.
Viewing this film for me comes with a major caveat that I know absolutely nothing about musical theatre or theatre in general. Seeing as this feature works as a tribute to lovers of this medium, certain moments went over my head. Namely, a particular scene apparently features several Broadway legends, which I absolutely did not put together at all mainly because I had no idea who these individuals were. All in all, this film carries major theatre kid energy, but it succeeds because it works so well even for someone with no knowledge of this world at all. A true testament to the work on display here as it tells such a moving story working as a tribute to Larson, who tragically died at the age of 36.
With the film presented through the scope of the theatrical production of the titular musical, this feature contains this meta feeling to it as Larson goes through his insecurities and struggles for his audience to absorb. As a result, the narrative switches to how his life plays and the stage production setting everything up and producing the best musical sequences offered by the film. The one standing out the most to being the song surrounding the fight between Larson and his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp). It truly shows the level of energy and commitment Andrew Garfield brings to the role and serves as a wonderful opportunity to highlight Vanessa Hudgens, who sings the song with him. So wonderfully crafted, the dual approach to telling Larson’s larger story uses its particular uniqueness to its advantage in a narrative sense.
As a film taking place in 1990, this feature grapples with the issues embattling this time, specifically the LGBTQ+ community where the diagnosis of HIV more likely than not meant an early death. The impact of this has major reverberations in the plot, especially with the theatre community being a place where these folks felt like they could be themselves. This gets seen through Larson’s friends such as Michael (Robin de Jesús), who truly gives a sensational performance. Robin de Jesús very nearly steals the show completely from Garfield. Making his major splash in my eyes cinematically with The Boys in the Band, he proves he’s going nowhere as he represents the comparison point for Larson and his journey.
However, this film remains the Andrew Garfield show and my goodness, he puts on such a tremendous performance. Showing off his chops musically and vocally, Garfield handles every aspect of Larson impeccably well and gives one of the better performances in his career. The way he takes on this vocally challenging role continues to demonstrate this man’s exceptional level of talent and proves he can pretty much take on anything. He becomes the reason this film continues to be engaging even when the Larson character depicted here can get a bit tedious and selfish. Garfield just knocks it out of the park.
Filled to the brim with hard-hitting truths about the artistic process and the reality of what it means to produce art, this feature comes as a true delight. With this being Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial feature debut, he shows some weaknesses but definitely does well enough to tell such an endearing story with such a lovely message and tribute to someone taken away far too young. With so much energy flowing through his film, it just does not miss a beat musically and was able to wrap a non-theatre kid, like me, into its arms.