“Hi, I’m John.”
It seems only appropriate that Lin-Manuel Miranda would make his feature film directorial debut with a story about a theater composer. It’s his comfort zone: a medium that he understands and respects. The final product proves such.
Based on Jonathan Larson’s musical by the same name, tick, tick … BOOM follows Jon (Andrew Garfield), a young theater composer writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. A few days shy of his thirtieth birthday, Jon is feeling the pressure. His make-or-break showcase is coming fast, pressure mountain quickly from all sides.
We’re told from the beginning that this is Jon’s story. A true story. Except for the parts he made up, which seems fair given the creative liberties associated with any retelling. And though there are likely some exaggerations, dramatizations, and downright lies fluffed into the piece, Jon’s experiences are relatable, his yearning for a place to belong, a way to spend his time universal.
A Tony winner for 2018’s revival of “Angels Among Us,” Andrew Garfield gives a near-flawless performance as Jon. Slightly conceited and self-involved, the creative is consumed with his own work, unable to handle the expectations placed on him by girlfriend Susan (an equally brilliant Alexandra Shipp). As he begins to rehearse for his showcase, his life outside of the upcoming performance disappears as he struggles to write the highly suggested (read required) second act anthem.
Jon’s best friend Michael (Robin de Jesus) has moved on from his dreams, taking a job at an ad agency. A heated conversation outside his office about how you spend your time and energy evolves into a heartfelt realization that a world exists off the stage. It is likely the conversation that inspired Rent, Larson’s forthcoming most successful musical that continues to run on Broadway today. The conversation is quick, emotional, and timely, something that not everyone in the creative circles of New York City, 1990 had much of as the AIDS pandemic ravaged the community.
Miranda pulls in all the favors during a musical number during a brunch shift at the Moondance Diner. A classic who’s who amongst Broadway elite, everyone gets a second to belt out a note and shine, further bringing the two mediums together and giving fans of the stage a quick moment to squeal with glee.
Miranda more than handles himself behind the camera, though he does tend to play it safe. Relying heavily on the emotions, he captures the moment without expanding on the characters. The tactic works fine and will have his fans elated, but there is little mystery involved.
When the day of the showcase arrives, a nervous Jon anxiously awaits Susan’s arrival, a seat saved for her in the first row. A heavily underutilized Vanessa Hudgens gets her moment in the spotlight, and the small crowd appears intoxicated with the material. It’s a great day, full of great success.
But in the life of a writer, is there ever such a day?
tick, tick … BOOM! is an honest story, one that exemplifies the struggles of a writer who was willing to sacrifice everything he had for a dream. In many ways, it analyzes an obsession—one with work and success. It engages the horrific reality that we all grow up; time stops for no one. Jonathan Larson was one of the most impressive theatrical composers of his generation. Maranda and Garfield do him justice, opening his story to a new audience and giving those familiar with it a reason to remember.
*This film is streaming globally on Netflix.