Jonathan Larson’s Legacy Lives on in High-Spirited ‘Tick, Tick…Boom!’ (Review)

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Musicals can always draw people from a particular audience even if they’re not the biggest fans of the genre (myself included). For that to be possible, you need a hook within minutes of the studio logos appearing on screen. And that’s exactly what Tick, Tick…Boom! does with a great opening number from Andrew Garfield to start the movie’s monologue that draws us into this upbeat dream-chasing story. Thanks to an Oscar-worthy performance from Garfield and impressive direction from Lin-Manuel Miranda in his directorial debut, Tick, Tick…Boom! is an engaging musical that pays tribute to Jonathan Larson and the magic of theatre.

Tick, Tick…Boom! is a biographical musical that tells the story of Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) going through a just-over-a-quarter-life crisis while trying to create a musical. Set in the 90s, Larson struggles to achieve his dreams while maintaining a day job at a local diner, his relationship with his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp), and friendships with close friends. As we watch Jonathan go through the ups and downs of life, this musical maintains a feel-good mentality throughout its runtime, even if things get a little depressing from time to time. And the spirited life of Jonathan, the person, breaks through in most of the musical numbers, which are upbeat and pay respect to the life of the theatre composer.

Thankfully, Tick, Tick…Boom! does not rely on much from Larson’s biggest work, Rent, which is great, as it focuses instead on his life, other works (including the semi-autobiographical musical of the same name as this film), and inspiration around him that eventually led him to the 1996 Broadway smash hit. While almost all the musical numbers in the film work, one number about halfway through the film feels slightly out of place. Sure, it likely works in theatre. But in the film, it feels indifferent compared to the other numbers. The film’s musical moments couldn’t have gotten stronger direction from anyone not named Lin-Manuel, whose expertise as a songwriter and playwright are tailor made for this story and its setting.

Andrew Garfield’s performance as Jonathan Larson is one of the year’s best and one that should land the 38-year-old another Oscar nomination. Leading with an effusion of enthusiasm and energy, Garfield shows us why his range as an actor has no bounds when it comes to any genre, whether he does or does not sing (which he does here and has strong vocals). If Larson were still with us, I believe he would be as proud as anyone to have Garfield portraying him. In minor roles, Alexandra Shipp as Jonathan’s girlfriend and Robin de Jesus as Larson’s roommate, are terrific in the films’ most tender moments, and when the camera shines a light on them during their moments where their voices shine.  

Like so many others, Jonathan Larson left this world too soon. Passing away the night before Rent’s opening preview due to an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm, his legacy has lived on through that musical. But with Tick, Tick…Boom!, his legacy continues to live on in a new light thanks to Andrew Garfield and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work in front and behind the camera of this wonderful film. Now available on Netflix, hopefully this film celebration of Larson’s tremendous talent will open the door for audiences to discover more about the late, great 35-year-old.

Rating: 4.5/5

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