If Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda is capable of doing anything wrong, he's yet to prove it. His directorial debut, "tick, tick...BOOM!" is a gloriously energetic ode to the theater, and one of its greatest creative minds, Jonathan Larson, the one-of-a-kind talent who gave us "Rent."
Before you go off ready to hand this year's Oscar to Will Smith or Benedict Cumberbatch, don't sleep on Andrew Garfield. He is an absolute firecracker as Larson and a commanding screen presence who single-handedly energizes each frame he's in. This is a crackling performance in an equally impressive film...one of the best of 2021 for sure ("tick, tick...BOOM!" is streaming on Netflix starting 11/19/21).
It's no wonder why Miranda was attracted to telling Larson's story: Not only does it give him an excuse to gush over all things Broadway, but Larson was a man who, like Alexander Hamilton, "writes like he's running out of time." Larson did run out of time, dying suddenly at the age of 35 of an aortic aneurysm, ironically happening on the exact day that "Rent" was to first open to audiences. Larson never got to experience the reaction to the work that he'd be best known for, a show that won four Tony Awards in 1996 (including Best Musical) as well as a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. "Rent" was on Broadway for 12 years, making it one of the longest-running shows ever, and has grossed nearly 300 million dollars. He would never get to learn that he paved the way for other diverse musicals, such as "Hamilton" years later, or that Miranda would in-turn, pay tribute to Larson's trail-blazing by choosing it as his first-ever feature-film directorial effort.
"tick, tick...BOOM!" was the name of one of two plays Larson had created prior to "Rent," and it's music and themes are intertwined in the movie's narrative. Garfield plays Larson, a struggling artist working on his first play, a musical called "Superbia," and scratching by hoping to make it in New York. He moved there with his life-long friend, Michael (Robin de Jesus), who was their town's most talented stage performer, now relegated to a desk job in the marketing world once he - like millions of others - arrived looking to follow their dreams, falling short.
Larson works at a diner where he meets Susan (Alexandra Shipp), but theirs is a story of lovers meeting when the timing is all wrong...how can Larson possibly give time to someone else when his first true-love, his work, takes precedence? His agent Rosa Stevens (a wonderful Judith Light) hasn't even returned his calls in months, but when the legendary playwright Stephen Sondheim (Bradely Whitford) sees his work and offers Larson some brief words of encouragement, it's all he needs to continue pushing forward.
Garfield leaves it all on the screen, embodying Larson to the point where we truly believe his inner-genius. Garfield is one of the finest actors of his generation, and it's hard to imagine that this performance wont always be mentioned when referring to his increasingly stellar career.
All of the songs in the film are Larson's, and there's not a dud in the group. At one point, Miranda assembles a who's who of Broadway legends (including Phillipa Soo and Renée Elise Goldsberry from his own "Hamilton") in a fun, Sondheim-inspired rendition of Larson's song, "Sunday," and it's clear that Miranda's love for Larson is not singular. We see a funnier side of his personality in the song "Therapy," hilariously performed by Garfield and Vanessa Hudgens (who is also mesmerizing in a smaller, yet important role).
Sprinkled throughout "tick, tick...BOOM!" are Easter Eggs and ingredients that fans of "Rent" will notice and love. All of the inspirations for "Rent" are present, but even if you have never seen "Rent" (which I admittedly have not), it's not knowledge that is required.
Praise goes to Garfield and cast, as well as Miranda's keen insight on the industry and themes that he's approaching, but the real star of "tick, tick...BOOM!" is Jonathan Larson. Imagine what more this man could have given to the world, the roads where his unbridled curiosity could have taken him, and us. Larson wanted to make a splash, but his introduction to Broadway was more like an explosion...and just like a sudden blast, when the smoke clears, nothing remains but the memories.
Thanks to Miranda and Garfield, when it comes to Jonathan Larson's life, all we are left with are fond ones.
Genre: Music, Musical, Drama, Biography.
Run Time: 1 hour 55 minutes.
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Vanessa Hudgens, Robin de Jesus, Bradley Whitford, Judith Light, Laura Benanti.
Directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (feature-film directorial debut)
"tick, tick...BOOM!" is currently in theaters and lands on Netflix on Friday, November 19th, 2021.
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