Synopsis – 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.
My Take – Without discounting the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda is immensely talented, I must admit I wasn’t exactly bowled over by Hamilton (the 2020 released filmed version) or the overly long In the Heights (2021). However, I also think he makes for a perfect choice to helm an autobiographical tribute of composer and playwright Jonathan Larson, who tragically passed away at the age of 35 on the morning of his long-running Broadway smash hit Rent‘s first Off-Broadway performance.
But most importantly, by letting Larson‘s talent do the talking, rather than add his own spin onto proceedings, Miranda, in his directorial debut, ends up creating one of the year’s best films, and a beautiful celebration of an immense talent taken from us far too soon.
This one is truly a triumphant, beautiful film, powered by the true passion and knowledge from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Steven Levenson, who adapted the stage musical for the screen. Boasting memorable, addictive, and first-rate songs performed by astonishingly talented actors, this latest Netflix release is a very heartfelt, inventive, and inspirational musical about the creative process a creator and writer goes through again and again.
All brought astonishing to life through Andrew Garfield‘s dazzling performance and surprisingly brilliant singing talent. This is without a doubt the best feel good film of the year.
Set five years before his death, the story follows Jonathan (Andrew Garfield), who is dreading the arrival of two deadlines, one being his 30th birthday, and the other being the industry showcase of Superbia, the musical he has been working on for eight years.
All the while juggling work as a waiter at the Moondance Diner, only pausing occasionally to spend time with his neglected girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp), a dancer looking for opportunities to make a living somewhere other than the exorbitantly expensive New York, and his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús), who gave up acting to work in advertising, and tries to help Jon make extra money doing market research, while suggesting that he could maybe channel his talents in a more commercial direction.
But despite the set-backs and his constant run down condition, Jon believes in his own talent and remains committed to becoming the future of musical theater, or at least somewhere in the lines of Broadway legends like Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford).
The film is Larson’s story told through his eyes and a celebration of his talent, rather than a deep exploration of him as a person exactly. And despite the upbeat theme, the film is a wistful, somewhat rueful homage to a creator who never got to enjoy the payoff for his many hard years of toiling in relative obscurity.
Anybody will be able to relate to the broader theme of worrying about the impact you have in your life, and whether you’ll ever achieve a goal you set out to do. In the spirit of Larson, Miranda’s direction explores the full potential of the musical, employing everything from stripped back acapella to glitzy multi-dimensional set pieces with dozens of voices in harmony.
A lot of the time director Miranda even utilizes his excellent musicality in the set-piece scenes. One in particular showing Larson underwater composing a new song in what turns out to be one of the film’s most beautiful and sublime moments in the feature.
Director Miranda’s tribute to the Larson is as devastating as it is exuberant. Even the most upbeat of musical numbers are haunted by the specter of death. Larson lost three friends to AIDS and the ticking he wrote about hearing, his sense that he was running out of time ends up being prophetic.
Of course, not everything director Miranda and writer Levenson try with this film works. For example, at times, the film feels more like a collection of set pieces than a proper story, and although Miranda was bound by the stage show’s narrative, the final act feels extremely rushed. But even at its messiest, the film is always meaningful.
The strongest part about the film is easily the acting. Andrew Garfield is just sensational as Jonathan Larson. He controls the screen every second he is on it, and not just in the tense, more emotional scenes. He also channels a true artist when he is behind the piano, singing and dancing to Larson’s show tunes. His performance is pitched perfectly, even when the film’s energy and editing borders on chaos, Garfield remains a transfixing presence, once again proving that he is genuinely a talented performer who continues to be underrated.
While it’s definitely Garfield‘s show, there’s strong supporting turns from Alexandra Shipp and Robin de Jesús. Shipp‘s singing number is the peak of the film but also the performance around it is filled with a great amount of naturalism and convincing from the first to the last minute she is on screen.
Robin de Jesús once again pulled out a fantastic supporting performance, and really sells the emotional arc of the film. In other roles, Vanessa Hudgens, Bradley Whitford, Jonathan Marc Sherman, Joshua Henry, Judith Light, Mj Rodriguez, Ben Levi Ross, and Tariq Trotter are also very good. On the whole, ‘tick, tick… BOOM!’ is a beautifully crafted love letter to Jonathan Larson, musicals, creators and once again showcases Lin-Manuel Miranda’s limitless talents.
Directed – Lin-Manuel Miranda
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 115 minutes