Tick Tick Boom – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Joshua Henry, Vanessa Hudgens
Available on Netflix November 19th
This film has been hugely hyped since it marks the directorial debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the much-lauded creator and star of Hamilton. Unsurprisingly, he picked a subject that he knows quite a bit about for his first directing effort – trying to get a musical staged on Broadway.
If you’re not familiar with Tick Tick Boom it’s the story of Jonathan Larson’s efforts to get his first musical staged in the legendary New York theatre district. Eeking a living working in a diner at weekends, he furiously writes during the week and eventually lands a prestigious showcase of his work which he hopes will finally lead to success before his 30th birthday. The story mainly follows the week building up to that celebration and the workshop showing the strain it put on him and his relationships and his absolute tunnel vision regarding his ambition.
If the name Jonathan Larson sounds familiar it’s because he wrote Rent, the hugely successful musical. However, this is set in his pre-Rent days when he was still a starving artist. Garfield takes on the title role and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. He can hold a tune and really does embody the character. He brings a frenetic energy to it that is mesmerising. I honestly wasn’t sure he would work here but he does.
Manuel directs thoughtfully. Obviously, he knows a thing or two about how to showcase a musical number and he manages to get plenty of movement into the scenes while retaining the integrity of the numbers. He resists the temptation to make this all jazz hands and tap shoes and instead injects it with the realism and grit which it was intended to have. There is one big indulgent number, however – a track called Sunday set in the diner Jonathan works in. Miranda used this as an opportunity to showcase well known Broadway stars in cameos. They include André De Shields, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Chita Rivera, Joel Grey, Beth Malone, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, and Bernadette Peters. It also features original cast members of the Broadway production of Rent, Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Wilson Jermaine Heredia as homeless bums. And there are also other cameos scattered throughout the movie which should keep theatre nerds very happy.
But this is a movie for more than fans of theatre. It may be a musical but at its heart, it’s a story of a man’s struggle with his creative process which so many people will be able to relate to.
Larson, unfortunately, passed away in 1996 the night before Rent opened so he never got to enjoy the success he had worked towards for so long. This serves as a touching tribute to him while also being an extremely magical and entertaining couple of hours. I would be very surprised if it doesn’t get a couple of nods during awards season and it bodes very well for Miranda’s future efforts.