Broadway brings about passion like almost nothing else in the world. If you love musical theater, you LOVE musical theater. There’s no half measures about it. Anyone who watches Tick, Tick…Boom! will have no doubt in their minds that not only does Lin-Manuel Miranda love it, so too does the subject of the film, playwright Jonathan Larson. In choosing to make Larson’s musical his directorial debut, Miranda makes his passion clear to all, not that we didn’t know that already. Luckily, that passionate love feeds over into the final product, which will prove affecting whether you care about theater or not. Broadway lovers will love it more, but this is a musical crowd pleaser, through and through. Netflix should have a small scale hit on their hands here.
Tick, Tick…Boom! is Inside Baseball for the Great White Way, to be sure. However, that doesn’t limit its appeal. As a musical in and of itself, it brings out emotions in almost all of the right ways. Is it a bit manipulative? Sure. However, what musical isn’t? The manipulation works, so that means the emotions are genuine. Miranda and company want you to feel how they feel, and damn if they don’t come pretty close to simulating that feeling.
The film is an adaptation of the stage musical of the same name, which also functions somewhat as a Jonathan Larson biopic. Promising young musical theater composer Jon (Andrew Garfield) is doing his best to be a success in New York City. While working on an ambitious musical he hopes to put up, he toils away at a diner. In the back of his mind is his impending 30th birthday, a mark of doom compelling him to beat like a deadline. While his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) is supportive, her dancing career is at an inflection point, while Jon’s best friend Michael (Robin de Jesus) has given up acting for a lucrative career in advertising. For Jon, being an artist in New York is not just what he wants to do, it’s what he needs to do.
As Jon works on a deadline for a staging of his play, he’s also navigating his friendships, as well as the potential of Susan leaving New York. The film stages various musical numbers from the eventual production of what would be Tick, Tick…Boom! while also having some take place in the current chronology of the film. It’s all designed to get into Jon’s head, whether he’s working at the diner, trying to craft a song, or hoping to impress a success story like Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford).
Andrew Garfield is extraordinary here, giving his all to a fairly challenging role. His acting is a little big in the smaller scenes, but it fits the character, while his singing is spot on. He really gives life to a musical figure in Larson. You’re captivated by his performance from start to finish. Oscar may well come calling here. Robin de Jesus and Alexandra Shipp both get excellent moments opposite Garfield, while Bradley Whitford is compelling in what’s basically an extended cameo. Supporting players here include Joshua Henry, Vanessa Hudgens, Judith Light, Mj Rodriguez, and more (including a ton of Broadway star cameos), but Garfield is the star of the show.
Director Lin-Manuel Miranda uses his love of Larson and the musical to overcome a mostly standard screenplay from Steven Levenson. The film has a narrative that, at least in broad strokes, you’ve seen a million times before. It’s in the songs from the play, which are fairly catchy, and in Miranda’s affection for the material, that the flick comes alive. Levenson somewhat paints by numbers, but Garfield is sure elevating the script. Visually, Miranda crafts a solid movie, though it’s worth noting that his pacing is a bit slack right now. However, I can’t wait to see what he helms next.
Tick, Tick…Boom! is going to work more for you the more you love Jonathan Larson, Rent, and musical theater, but Andrew Garfield is so good, he’ll pull almost anybody into the film. Garfield is almost assuredly going to be in the conversation for a Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards. Yes, he’s just that good. The rest of the movie can’t quite measure up, but that simply means it’s only good, while he’s great. Give this one a shot, you’ll likely be humming the songs right as the credits roll.