Tick, Tick… BOOM!

Andrew Garfield gives a tour-de-force performance as Rent composer Jonathan Larson in an emotional Netflix musical.

“Everything you’re about to see is true. Except for the parts Jonathan made up.”

So says new Netflix movie Tick, Tick… BOOM!, a show-within-show true story of US composer Jonathan Larson.

Larson died in 1996 aged just 35 years old, the day of the first Off-Broadway preview performance of his latest work, Rent.

The show would go onto a Broadway run of 12 years -the 11th longest-running show on the great white way.

His autobiographical musical, Tick, Tick… Boom!, in which he laments not having created a hit show before turning 30, was initially staged in 1990 but following his death was restaged in 2001 and consequently given a whole new, poetic, context.

This film by Lin-Manuel Miranda in his feature directorial debut, captures all of that evocatively led by actor Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, The Amazing Spiderman) as 29 year old Larson.

Miranda juxtaposes Larson behind the piano performing to an Off-Broadway crowd with scenes from his life with creative New York friends in the ’90s, holding down a diner job, sweating over a keyboard and raising funds for his latest musical workshop, a dystopian rock musical called ‘Superbia’ (are you keeping up?).

Ideas and songs constantly collide, on the stage, the street, the diner and rooftops but the life force of Larson brings it all together. His burning need for success before turning 30 is highlighted by early successes of Stephen Sondheim (portrayed by Bradley Whitford) and parental pressure.

Not even girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) can distract him from insatiable quest and there’s a rocky friendship with gay pal Michael (Robin de Jesús) who has seemingly dispensed with worldly ambitions for worldly possessions. Yep, he works in advertising.

But as the day draws close to his Superbia presentation for potential backers, Larson can’t seem to write a missing song on which a story turning-point hinges. His raucous agent Rosa (Judith Light) has sent out the invites, even if she thinks his show has spaceships and aliens…

Larson is a believer and a music theatre purist. All around him are megamusicals (I’m guessing Starlight Express, Phantom, Chess), but his search for inspiration tears him up, all whilst trying to hold down a job, friendships and life. Unmistakably, also around him is the HIV-AIDS epidemic in New York’s gay and theatre communities….

Throughout the film are songs composed by Larson, performed by Garfield and co-stars Robin de Jesús, Alexandra Shipp, Mj Rodriguez, but also by workshop actors Joshua Henry and Vanessa Hudgens -the latter two are sublime in performance-only roles. But Garfield is the star in a tour-de-force role.

There’s also a brilliant Sondheim homage with some unexpected cameos for true thespians, but you’ll have to discover that for yourself.

While the film is a life-affirming experience it’s impossible not to reflect on what might have been had Larson lived longer than his 35 years on our planet.

Don’t miss it.

Tick, Tick… BOOM! screens Friday November 19 on Netflix.

2 Responses

  1. I watched this at the movies and I found it awfully confusing at times but I didn’t really know much about Jonathan Larson beforehand. It was a great performance by Garfield.

  2. I saw this at the movies on Sunday. I was the only one in the session, so it felt like a performance for one.

    It was incredible. Best performance I’ve seen Andrew Garfield give. One of my highlights of 2021.
    It’s a pity it doesn’t have more of a push behind it.

    Solid directorial debut from Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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