Stop the clock, take time out, time to regroup before you lose the bout. Jonathan Larson sings these lyrics, one hand in the air and the other drumming on piano keys. This is the opening musical number of tick, tick…BOOM!, a biographical musical drama starring Andrew Garfield as Larson, an aspiring theatre composer going through a quarter-life crisis as he approaches his 30th birthday and feels he has not accomplished his dream.
This film is an adaptation of an autobiographical musical Larson wrote and performed off-off-Broadway in 1990. It’s been a hell of a year for director Lin Manuel-Miranda, who, just in 2021, has had his music featured in In the Heights, Vivo, and Encanto. Miranda makes his feature directorial debut with a film based on the man behind the Broadway musical sensation, Rent.
It’s refreshing to see a movie that does such an excellent job of catering to its audience. This film is a love letter to musical theater made for theater lovers by theater lovers. Miranda’s storytelling has so much passion, and you can feel his desire to tribute Larson with the film based on his fascinating life. At its core, it’s a film about a struggling artist in the days before he turns 30 years old, but above everything, it’s a musical—and a damn good one too.
This movie is a prime example of a film that uses music and songs to complement a compelling story. The film doesn’t rely too much on either one; instead, story and music work hand in hand to create an experience like no other with this film. It wraps you into the story and characters while also having fantastic renditions of songs such as “30/90,” “Sunday,” and “Come to Your Senses.” “Boho Days” is a short little number with no music attached to it, all sung acapella, and it is phenomenal.
But what is the best part of this movie? Andrew Garfield. The man is an outstanding actor who has already played a real-life person this year with his excellent portrayal of Jim Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. But he never ceases to amaze with his range, as he is giving this role his all right from the opening moments of the film. The way he speaks and all of his mannerisms are pitch-perfect recreations of Larson’s behavior, and you can’t take your eyes away from Garfield as he nails this role.
Other standouts of the film include Alexandra Shipp as Susan, Larson’s girlfriend, who has a lot of emotional scenes with him. But the best supporting character is Michael, a standout character who adds a lot of humor and drama to the film. Robin de Jesus portrays the character beautifully, and everyone is at the top of their game in this movie. Miranda directs the film superbly for a debut feature, selling the movie’s comedic sensibilities and emotional beats. There’s an argument scene that’s intercut with a lighthearted musical number that, on paper, should have been a clash of tone, but Miranda goes in with full conviction and makes it work.
Unfortunately, the movie stumbles a bit here and there with the screenplay. For example, Vanessa Hudgens has a prominent role in many of the film’s musical numbers, but the movie gives her no characterization to latch onto as if Hudgens was used for her excellent singing voice and nothing more. And as the film wanted to remain faithful to the original musical, the film skips over some of the more compelling moments of Larson’s life surrounding Rent and his untimely death, briefly referencing it rather than showing it.
Regardless, this movie is a cinematic wonder. Broadway lovers will eat this movie up like pancakes and syrup in a Sunday dine. Many film lovers may see themselves in the protagonist, as the film perfectly encapsulates the mind of a struggling artist. Whether it’s the catchy music or Garfield’s knockout performance, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this incredible retelling of the life of Jonathan Larson.