Released: 19th November
Seen: 20th November
On January 25, 1996, the musical Rent opened to rave reviews. It was written by one Jonathan Larson who sadly would never get to read those reviews or bask in the 12 year run that Rent had because on the day Rent opened, Jonathan Larson passed away due to an aortic dissection. The only other work of Jonathan Larson’s that we know of is a piece called tick, tick… Boom! which began as a one man show in 1990 and then was adapted posthumously into a small 3 person play. Well, here we are about 30 years later and that little monologue has turned into a major movie musical and… god damn I’m so glad we’ve got people doing musicals properly again, Cats had me worried we’d never get to enjoy this genre again!
tick, tick… Boom! is mostly an autobiographical story, following Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) as he works himself to the bone at a New York diner while working hard on a brand new musical called Suburbia. His work on the show causes him to slowly lose touch with people who matter, including his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) and his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús). The stress of trying to get his musical noticed is slowly taking its toll on Jonathan who feels like he’s slowly running out of time, after all he does turn 30 in a week and he has nothing to show for it. While all this is going on, the harsh reality of life in New York in the late 1980s is bearing down on everyone… especially on those who work in the gay friendly world of musical theatre in a time of crisis.
From the very first moment, tick, tick… Boom! Is just a glorious love letter to the creation of art and the work of an artist who sadly left us long before he got to show the true breadth of what he was capable of. It’s a movie musical that understands the medium it’s working with and uses that to its full advantage. The show dives between the original monologue format, the three person play format and a straight up movie musical adaptation and uses each of those styles perfectly, knowing just when it’s time for bombast and when it’s time to bring everything down to being as intimate as possible.
On top of knowing just how to tell the story, it’s also a masterclass in presenting musical numbers for a modern musical. Big stylish numbers that run the gamut from gigantic dreamlike sequences involving dozens of Broadway icons to smaller intimate numbers that just require the lead and a piano, every song feels perfectly calibrated to what’s needed and takes advantage of the medium. Sure, this is a musical that’s about as close to a regular biopic as you’re going to get and is based on the most mundane realistic experiences you could imagine but the film knows when it’s time to pull out all the stops and just embrace the fact that this is a movie musical and we can just do whatever the hell we want if it serves the number.
Clearly Lin-Manuel Miranda, who now throws “Film director” on his already impressive resume, has been taking notes for years because this is somehow the work of a seasoned director coming from a man on his first go. It’s incredible, he not only makes this musical soar in ways it has never soared before but he pulls out incredible performances from his already jaw dropping cast. Can someone please just throw Lin-Manuel Miranda in a room with a pile of musical scripts and just let him pick whatever the hell he wants for his next directorial job because the man truly has shown he can do just about anything.
Speaking of “Where the hell has this talent been hiding?” exactly when were we going to be told that Andrew Garfield can sing like this? When was this man secretly a triple threat and how was that not something that was pulled out of him sooner? You want to see someone completely vanish into a character while also just showing off every skill set they have in one role? Apparently Andrew Garfield has just been a musical theatre god this entire time and no one thought to put him to use until now. By the end of the opening number you will be in awe of what he can do and he’s barely even begun. This is one of those roles where you just wait patiently to see the performer drown in a sea of awards because this talent deserves that level of praise.
Hell, every actor here is firing on all cylinders. Alexandra Shipp is a pure angelic delight who you actively miss every time she dares to walk off the screen. Robin de Jesús keeps proving that he should be a much bigger star than he already is and probably has one of the most emotional musical performances in the entire show when he just wails out the line “Is this real life?” over and over again. Then there’s Vanessa Hudgens who delivers the exact thing you expect when you ask Vanessa Hudgens to be in a musical… she kills it, she has a handful of scenes and every one is just perfect. Did I mention this cast was incredible?
tick, tick… Boom! is absolutely stunning. It gets what this genre needs, it plays with the form and visuals while also just letting the talents of its obscenely brilliant cast shine like nothing else. The lead performance is probably going to be talked about for a long time, particularly with awards season coming up and it absolutely should. Everything about this movie just works, it’s truly something special that everyone involved clearly put everything into getting just right… congrats guys, you made something great, I can’t wait to see the next thing you do.