“Tick Tick Boom” was explosive from the very first scene to the final credits. Andrew Garfield embodies Jonathan Larson, the creative force behind the successful and long-running Broadway Musical “Rent.” While this man achieved success only posthumously, Larson’s life the week before his 30th birthday is told in musically dramatic form in the Lin-Manuel Miranda directed film “Tick Tick Boom.”
Reflecting on life and his lack of accomplishments — a list and bar set by everyone else he knows — Larson (Garfield) dreams of his musical “Superbia” on Broadway’s stage. Struggling to make ends meet or even pay the electric bill, Jonathan hits a road block both in his writing and in his life. This crossroads forces him to make life-altering decisions with his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) and to look in the mirror to see who he is and can be.
Steven Levenson is responsible for this screenplay and intricately, delicately, and with utmost care weaves together a complicated story and with an unusual style. Part musical, part drama, we follow Larson as he struggles, recalls, and lives those pivotal days prior to entering his third decade of life. Intertwining musical numbers that augment, not jar us out of the story, is a difficult task, but with the writing and directing talents behind the film, it flows naturally and most importantly, in an entertaining and stimulating fashion.
As capable the talent behind the camera is, Miranda surrounds himself with extraordinary acting and singing talent in front of it. Garfield’s stellar performance as he belts out impassioned lyrics while he plays the piano is heart-stopping. His character finds himself in various situations — performing for an audience as he tells this contemporaneous story, re-enacting his past, and living his daily life — it’s a cognitive juggling act which requires inexhaustible levels of acting energy and Garfield delivers.
Levenson also takes us into the complexities of what is required to just pitch a musical let alone get one on stage. We see Larson’s “Superbia” requirements, the musicians and singers, as they rehearse the songs to be performed to the powers of Broadway including Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford). The talents of Karessa (Vanessa Hudgens), Roger (Joshua Henry), and other gifted singers are mesmerizing as they deliver their songs with clarity and emotion. Additionally, we are taken back in time to the ’90’s when being gay and the AIDS crisis was hitting hard. It’s not all drama and hardship, though. There’s plenty of laughter as the likes of Judith Light as Larson’s unresponsive agent Rosa Stevens hits the screen and Laura Benanti as a focus group leader helps develop marketing for a potential product.
“Tick Tick Boom” is a unique story filled with vibrant music and characters and a narrative arc that is at once compelling. With Miranda at the helm, luring us in to care about Larson, Garfield shows us he is so much more than Spider-Man…he truly can do it all. The entire cast rises to the occasion to tell us the story of a man who chose to follow his dream with determination and perseverance. It’s as if Larson knew life was going to be short for him and he needed to make the most of each and every precious moment. Perhaps we should all take heed from this man.
For all of you who say you don’t like musicals, I dare you to watch this one and continue to believe you don’t like them.
3 1/2 Stars