“On the cusp of his 30th birthday, a promising young theater composer navigates love, friendship and the pressures of life as an artist in New York City.”

Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Writers: Steven Levenson, Jonathan Larson
Staring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, Vanessa Hudgens, Joshua Henry
Release Date: November 19, 2021
Where To Watch: Netflix

I want it on the record that I am writing this review for tick, tick…BOOM! while watching Freddy vs. Jason (2003), so let it be known that I have range.

tick, tick…BOOM! is a story based off the true story and inspiration of Jonathan Larson. The dreaming and utterly devoted Larson, played by Andrew Garfield, is looking for his Broadway break before turning the ripe old age of 30. Larson is battling financial woes, a broken romantic relationship, friends getting sick with HIV and the industrial complex pushing him down. Nothing seems to be going right for Jonathan Larson.

The one thing that is done right by Jonathan Larson is the casting of Andrew Garfield to play the titular character. Using his theater background to its fullest extent, Garfield brings the house down multiple times. The screenplay setting up Larson’s character with the 30/90 song provides immediate background to the type of pressure Larson is putting on himself. The tunnel vision he has for finishing his first big break and making something of himself is affecting his everyday life without him even noticing. The steady things in his life like his girlfriend and best friend are fading into the background like drowned out backup singers. Without their cues and cadence, Larson is losing his purpose and inspiration. Larson thinks he is finding it in his hard work and diligence, but in reality he is losing his connective strings to the aspects of his life he can best tap his creative ability from.

The most gut-wrenching song is “Real Life.” In the hoopla of his own self-absorbed goals, Larson has been oblivious to the fact that his friend Michael (Robin de Jesus) is struggling. The splurging of money on a new apartment was the first sign of many hints that Michael is dealing with something. It finally comes to fruition that he has been diagnosed with HIV, which for many is a death sentence. The song “Real Life” is grounded in realism, something that Larson (and often musical characters as a whole) struggle with. tick, tick…BOOM! hits its stride once this song starts. From there on out its emotional, inspiring and fulfilling.

Robin de Jesus is one of two actors who throw together great supporting performances, the other being Alexandra Shipp. Shipp plays Susan, the girlfriend of Larson who is constantly trying to drip in some reality into her love’s world. The drip becomes a spill when Susan is offered a new job, putting even more pressure and time constraints on Larson. Shipp has been in a handful of recognizable movies like X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), Dark Phoenix (2019), Love, Simon (2018) and Straight Outta Compton (2015), but tick, tick…BOOM! allows her to flex her acting muscles more so than any other. Susan is the reality shaping avatar in Larson’s world. She was his tether and when she asks from some slack for herself, everything becomes unrivaled.

The breakup between Larson and Susan is one of those things in life everyone has a hard time accepting but everyone knows is the right thing. It is a classic timing situation where people’s intentions and aspirations don’t line-up. It is a reality bitch slap for Larson and anyone watching who has gone through something like that.

The single moment between Larson and Susan is when they are finally talking about her new job opportunity at the very last moment. Jonathan is crying through explaining how he can’t leave the city and he can’t leave his dreams, and Susan replies simply with a Han Solo, “I Know.” The shock on Larson’s face, and the steadfast posture of Susan, lets you know where each character stands at the moment in time. One is ready to accept what the future holds, the other is not. One is ready to branch off and do their own thing, and one is not. Susan has already accepted the fact she needs to do this alone, while Larson was is realizing that he is losing his life jacket from the drowning thoughts of self-doubt and pressure.

tick, tick…BOOM! is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first major motion picture directing credit, and credit to the man for creating a story that emotes vulnerability out the seams. Miranda, who has a brief one second cameo as a chef in Larson’s diner, allows the actors to preform with ease and confidence. The most fun aspects of tick, tick…BOOM! are the musical performances, the interludes into Larson’s everyday normal day life where he draws inspiration from. It is an obvious point to make, but it is true.

Sometimes tick, tick…BOOM! indulges in its excess and drags getting an important point across. The movie is 15 minutes too long with the dullest moments happening in the middle portion of the story. As a musical, tick, tick…BOOM! suffers from the same problem that afflicts nearly every such story; a sense of real problem. We know that Larson is poor and struggling, but the tangible struggles he is dealing with are put on the back burner to the more literary, artistic follies of love, inspiration and purpose. Watching the movie, you may find yourself screaming at Larson to make the logical decision rather than the high-risk opportunity. This is part of genre and part of the story. It is woven in. Some may find it as inspirational to never put limits on yourself, but that blind ambition can act as blinders to seemingly obvious decisions. It may be just a me problem, and I’ll type it out because it is my blog. It was hard to watch.

Some last tidbits before closing out:

  • Was nice to see Vanessa Hudgens in a movie. It was also nice to see her not being the cliche Vanessa Hudgens. She was able to play someone who was just good at singing. Also she is beautiful.
  • In late November, just a week or so after tick, tick…BOOM! was released, Stephen Sondheim passed away at the age of 91. In the movie, he is played by Bradley Whitford. There are not many lines for the Sondheim character, but he does play an influential role in shaping who Larson is and also pushing him to continue in his hardest moments. It was just an odd experience to learn about who Sondheim was after he passed and then see him portrayed on screen doing exactly what everyone in reality raved about him.

tick, tick…BOOM! is not the best movie of the 2021 upper tier, but it is entertaining and the most rewatchable of the award contenders. The movie itself should be a contender for best picture at the Academy Awards in March 2022. Garfield will be in the conversation for best actor, and I would love to see Shipp a de Jesus get a look in the supporting categories. Also would not be surprised to see this arise is the best adapted screenplay strategy, but it will be stacked up against sure fire nominations like The Power Of The Dog (2021) and Dune (2021).

STANKO RATING: A- (4.5/5 Stars)

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