The busiest man in Hollywood, Lin-Manuel Miranda, presents his directorial debut with Netflix’s Tick, tick…BOOM!, based on the semi-autobiographical musical of the same name written by the late Johnathan Larson. A frenetic experience from start to finish, Tick, tick…BOOM! meshes most of its elements together to produce the best movie musical adaptation of the year. Not only that, but a fitting tribute to Larson himself, the legacy he has left on the musical theatre industry, and to the artistic process, no matter how chaotic and relentless that might be.
Written by Alex Gilston
Tick, tick… BOOM! begins with a song called 30/90, which introduces us to Johnathan Larson (Andrew Garfield), who’s singing about the existential dread of turning 30 having felt like he’s achieved nothing. There’s an urgency to it all that is ever present throughout, this is punctuated by an intermittent ticking noise illustrating the passage of time, which from Larson’s point of view, is rapidly running out. The 120 minute runtime speeds through from start to finish without as much of a breath to take, but never to the story's detriment. After Dear Evan Hansen a month ago it was a worry to see Steven Levenson on writing duties but the screenplay here is a marked improvement. The way the stage play is presented through Larson’s inner monologue is incredibly charming whilst also leaving room for a huge amount of emotional heft.
The cast of Tick, tick…BOOM! Is phenomenal. Everybody seems at home within their roles and no one more so than Andrew Garfield himself who leads the pack with a flagship performance. It seems cliche to say but Garfield looks here as if he was born to play the role of Johnathan Larson, which is miraculous in some ways as he had never sung in public before starting filming. Beyond the impressiveness of his vocals, Garfield keeps up to Larson’s million miles an hour personality. You can tell the amount of love and time Andrew Garfield has put into this role which comes across in the more emotional scenes of the film, particularly during the lonesome “Why”. Robin de Jesús is the highlight of the supporting cast playing Michael, Jonathan Larson’s best friend. He is the subject of the happiest and the saddest moments of Tick, tick…BOOM! and he plays the character beautifully, at times carrying Garfield’s performance to even greater heights. Joshua Henry and Vanessa Hudgens act as musical storytellers being present within Larson’s inner monologue as well as real life, helping him to sing through the catalogue of his life. Hudgens gets some particular moments to shine vocally but really proves herself in the silly number “Therapy”.
Lin-Manuel Miranda has had quite the year with his first ever stage musical, In The Heights, being adapted into a film, starring as the lead in Vivo, an animated musical of which he wrote all 11 songs for, and with his original Disney animation Encanto, filled with more original songs, yet to come out, it was time for him to try his hand in the director's chair. Unsurprisingly at this point. and annoyingly, there is nothing that this man can’t do. With Tick, tick…BOOM! Miranda has crafted something so personal that it actually feels universal. Similarly with Andrew Garfield, you can tell how much love, blood, sweat, and tears have been put into the making of this film. A love letter not only to Johnathan Larson, but to the industry that Lin-Manuel Miranda himself has dedicated his life to, and also to musical theatre fans everywhere, whom without he wouldn’t be where he is today.
The soundtrack to Tick, tick…BOOM! is infectiously good. The cast carries it through the runtime impeccably, but it really is a testament to the talent of Johnathan Larson himself, who left it all out on the table and crafted emotionally relatable lyrics. “Why” stands out as one of the best out of all the songs. There’s something about Andrew Garfield and a piano in Central Park at night acting his chops off that is just unbeatable.
Bar some interesting choices in the CGI department that sometimes detracts from the overall vibe of the film Tick, tick…BOOM! is an absolute triumph. The direction, the performances, the soundtrack all come together to give us something that Johnathan Larson would surely have been proud of.