It’s been a big year for Lin-Manuel Miranda. While the excitement around In the Heights, Vivo, and Encanto, is high (from myself included), it’s his feature directorial debut with Tick Tick Boom (stylized tick, tick…BOOM!) that deserves the largest standing ovation. An adaptation of the autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson of the same name, Tick Tick Boom is an experience that showcases the beauty and vibrancy of art, the desperation and solitude of creating it, and ultimately the connections we create and cherish along the way.
If you’re unfamiliar, Jonathon Larson revolutionized theater as the creator of RENT and Tick Tick Boom serves as an autobiography. With the clock ticking loudly, expertly woven into high-stress scenes, Jon is at a crossroads and faces the question everyone must reckon with: What are we meant to do with the time we have? The film stars Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Joshua Henry, Vanessa Hudgens, MJ Rodriguez, Bradley Whitford, Tariq Trotter, and Judith Light. In addition to Miranda’s direction, Tick Tick Boom is written by Steven Levenson.
The film follows Jon (Andrew Garfield), a young theater composer who’s waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 while writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. Having poured 8 years of his life into this project, the pressure begins to rise. Not only from his art, but from the fear of not achieving his dreams by the time he turns 30, which is just weeks away. Days before he’s due to showcase his work at a make-or-break workshop, the pressure he faces from himself begins to force a crack when combined with the pressure from those around him. His commitments to his loved ones and the need to be there for him begin to push him as his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp), who dreams of an artistic life beyond New York City needs an answer for their future. As Jon sees Michael move on from his dreams on the stage to a life of financial security in advertising. And the reality of his community and friends being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic.
Andrew Garfield. That’s it. That is really what I want to write about in this review, just his name enough times to fill up 500 words. Larson’s musical numbers are emotive and Miranda’s execution of adapting them to the screen by jumping between Garfield’s Larson on the stage to scenes from the story work wonderfully. But it’s Garfield who carries Tick Tick Boom to great heights. His voice is breathtaking and while performing, no, just while existing on the screen, it’s nearly impossible to pay attention to anyone else. Garfield’s physicality in the space whether that be dancing or simply walking through it draws the performance out not just from his speech or his songs, but this whole person. You feel his emotions just as much as he wants you to see them. Garfield’s talent shines not just through Larson, but on his own.
Additionally, while Garfield’s Larson is showstopping, the rest of the cast easily showcases their talent and leaves the viewer wanting more from them. Whether it’s the heartbreakingly relatable Michael played by the stunningly talented Robin de Jesús or Vanessa Hudgens and Joshua Henry as Karissa and Roger whose voices are just as powerful as Garfield’s in the film’s musical numbers on the monologue stage. There is a lot to love in every fiber of Tick Tick Boom. It’s a love letter to art, to theater, to resiliency, and of course, a musical film that honors Larson’s legacy and life.
If I were to critique Tick Tick Boom on anything, it would be the barrage of cameos that appear and disappear quickly enough to make you question if you really saw the famous face to begin with. But those moments come in the larger ensemble numbers and while they cause some distraction, the film’s emotion still comes through.
Overall, Tick, Tick…BOOM! is a film that means a lot to me. I’m turning 30 in three weeks. I feel like on the edge of breaking or succeeding constantly and while this stands a biopic, there is a balance between life events and salient moments that hit universally, with songs that stick with you.
Tick, Tick…BOOM! is available on Netflix on November 19, 2021.
- Rating - 9.5/109.5/10
Tick, Tick…BOOM! is a film that means a lot to me. I’m turning 30 in three weeks. I feel like on the edge of breaking or succeeding constantly and while this stands a biopic, there is a balance between life events and salient moments that hit universally, with songs that stick with you.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.