‘tick, tick... BOOM!’ Review

Take cover: the musical theater kids are on overdrive

If you’ve ever sat at a table with musical theater nerds and not had a clue what they were talking about, you’ve met the target audience for tick, tick.... BOOM!’s. It’ll be a film with legs in the years to come, particularly with the drama kids, but chances are it will struggle in its initial release, even with someone like Lin-Manual Miranda (who created a little show called Hamilton) in his directorial debut.

In this biopic-lite/musical, we meet a pre-Rent Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) who hasn’t yet crafted the 1994 Broadway smash hit. Larson is living in Manhattan squalor trying to put together a rock-opera retelling of 1984, and his inner-circle consists of 1980s NYC underground communities rather than posh Broadway elites. By the time we catch up with him, Larson’s determination to reinvent musical theater has become a dangerous obsession.

At its best, Miranda finds a touching tribute to the late playwright; at its worst, tick, tick...BOOM! becomes an insufferable tribute to the archetypical starving artist that seems aimed solely at white boy coastal types. The romanticization of suffering is tiresome, and the celebratory manner in which the film showcases Larson’s very real obsessive behaviors feels wrong. We don’t—or shouldn’t—want to be like him, but the film wants us to admire his dedication even as it ruins lives.

But hey, the music is banging, and Miranda’s directorial style translates well to film, even if his inspirations are familiar. The frenetic energy is fantastic and he knows what to capture within the frame; the rough edges reflect a rough world, and anyone familiar with movie musicals—looking at you, drama geeks—will note the repetitive staging decisions and numbers lifted from big hitters like Chicago and Hedwig and the Angry Itch.

tick tick… BOOM!’s anchor is Garfield, who is here at the height of his prowess and an actor who can take on the most obscure, bizarre projects and bring such life to them that it’s hard not to recall the likes of Marlon Brando or Montgomery Clift. Even so, the general public will likely find the film a little too insider baseball. Those who’ve not been lulled by Broadway and musical culture will find Larson’s short life fascinating if frustrating.


+We don’t deserve Andrew Garfield; Larson’s music

-Esoteric; generic artist woes

tick, tick…BOOM!

Directed by Miranda

With Garfield, Alexandra Shipp and Robin de Jesús

Netflix, PG-13, 121 min

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