Tick, Tick... Boom! Review: Andrew Garfield ENTHRALS like his 'rent' is due in Lin-Manuel's dazzling musical
Tick, Tick... Boom!
Tick, Tick... Boom! Cast: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Vanessa Hudgens
Tick, Tick... Boom! Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Tick, Tick... Boom! Streaming Platform: Netflix
Tick, Tick... Boom! Stars: 4/5
The anxious tingling which encircles a ticking time bomb plays a metaphor to Tony Awards and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jonathan Larson's quarter-life crisis in Lin-Manuel Miranda's dazzling directorial debut, Tick, Tick... Boom! The outlandish musical is a bittersweet symphony of the life of an artist, struggling to get that big break; especially when he's in his 30s, has bills piled up in an expensive 90s New York, a fractured equation with his dancer girlfriend and a best friend who gives up on his "mediocre" acting for a lavish advertising-penthouse life.
Andrew Garfield, who has always had a crackling on-screen presence and makes it hard to hate him even in the slightest, sinks deep into the chaotic, genius mind of Jonathan Larson in Tick, Tick... Boom!, which is based on Jonathan's semi-autobiographical musical of the same name, just before his revolutionary musical, Rent, which changed the course of what theatre can be. Rentheads will instantly connect not just with Jonathan, but the supporting, diverse supporting characters as well because it's almost like a precursor to the legendary '96 play's narrative. Giving an Oscar-worthy performance is Andrew as the supremely talented actor oscillates seamlessly between Larson's creative intuition to make a song out of anything and innate desperation when he's not able to write 'THE' song for his sci-fi rock opera play, Superbia, which almost no one gets except him. It also doesn't help that the deadline before his Superbia workshop is one week! Tick, tick, tick...
Jonathan's hero, Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford), is the one who advises him that he's missing a song in Superbia, which fuels Larson's anxiety further and it's all he can think about as Sondheim made his Broadway debut at the age of 27, with him just days away from turning the big 3-0! There is a sense of acute nervous energy throughout the movie that keeps you at the edge of your seat because Steven Levenson's screenplay doesn't show us the happy ending and rather shows us how sometimes, it's lonelier when you're trudging to the top than actually being on top of the mountain. All of Jonathan's first world problems are treated like cataclysmic issues through Jonathan's music and lyrics. This was something I empathised with because don't we feel our own lives is like a movie?
We see it in Therapy, a somber duet between Jonathan and his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) about their dwindling relationship and misunderstandings caused by Larson's obsession with himself and his life. You also see that in No More, a quirky duet between Jonathan and his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús) as they talk about the whims and fancies of a rich life and a mirror to what Larson's road not taken would have looked like.
The most stellar and standout of the musical acts belong to the women as Susan and Superbia cast member Karessa Johnson (Vanessa Hudgens) belt out Come To Your Senses, as a direct wake-up call to Jonathan, whose motto is to "wake a generation up." Tick, Tick... Boom! paints Jonathan's painstaking lows and lows and ends just before hitting an all-time high, which is wistfully poetic as Larson died at the young age of 35, due to an aortic dissection, on the day of Rent's first Off-Broadway preview performance. He never got to truly enjoy the success he truly craved for, which wasn't the money and fame but to make a difference. Being an artist isn't as glamorous as it's envisioned to be because we get to see Rent, but not what happened behind the scenes to make an exemplary piece of art.
However, the introductory number, 30/90, which counts down the days to Larson's 30th birthday, and an existential solo performance with Why, we witness how for an artist, the world's a stage, especially, when it's real life. Jonathan thinks of himself as the central character of his story and it costs him his close ones while through the art of writing, a writer's block and eventual inspiration, Larson realises his extravagant agent Rosa Stevens' (Judith Light) hopelessly hopeful advice: "Write what you know." It's true when they say you need to know pain to pen. The most Broadway-style extravagant number comes at a crucial plot point with the Moondance Diner, where Jonathan worked for many years, as the setting. Sunday is theatrical at its finest and will have musical junkies squealing with nostalgia and even a Lin-Manuel Miranda cameo.
Not letting Tick, Tick... Boom! be a one-man show, Alexandra adds more drama as Susan into Jonathan's already dramatic storytelling without ever overshadowing, but not underplaying the wrecked relationship between the pair. While I would have loved to see Robin sing more, he brings major dramatic chops in telling Michael's complicated storytelling with the parallels of the HIV crisis going rampant at that time period. Bradley as Sondheim embodies the legendary artist with chirpy charm while Judith's Rosa comes in bits and pieces with a few lessons along with way. Joshua Henry as Superbia cast member Roger lets his commanding vocals do the talking while for Garfield, it's his emotive acting which adds more depth to his musical numbers. Vanessa shines in her limited screen space and shows us yet again, why she's an underrated gem who deserves meatier roles to truly shine.
Tick, Tick... Boom! plays the cards right in how it's filmed as cinematographer Alice Brooks is given levy to play with different aspect ratios, dialling the throwback aspect up to a 180, while the crisscross narrative structure of Jonathan performing and narrating the play live on stage while his real life is shown in chaos-driven chapters allows editors Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum to spice up the perturbed intensity with the rigorous back and forth, which never distract or confuse you. 90s NYC comes to life, not with trademark wide location shots but rather, its intimate, meticulous production design by Alex DiGerlando, through rusty apartments and rebellious posters.
For his directorial debut, Miranda leaves no stone unturned in making Tick, Tick... Boom! a razzle-dazzle affair because for him, it's more personal and a befitting homage to his hero. There's almost an uncanny likeability to Lin-Manuel's own work, with Hamilton, in particular, as he too is inspired by Larson's ability for diverse yet generalised storytelling for the people. It's almost as if Lin-Manuel Miranda is carrying forward Jonathan Larson's legacy, which saw the day of light only after his untimely death. The world may have lost a revolutionary artist way too early but Jonathan Larson helped sow the seeds for the Lin-Manuel Mirandas of the world. Ironically, we're given a lot of tick, ticks but not a boom, which is quite refreshing!