Press "Enter" to skip to content

Review: tick, tick … Boom! (2021)

tick, tick … Boom! (2021)

Directed by: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Premise: An adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical stage show. Larson (Andrew Garfield) tries to launch his Broadway career but struggles to complete the music in time for a showcase.

What Works: tick, tick … Boom! was a stage musical created by Jonathan Larson who would later go on to great success with the musical Rent. At the time of tick, tick … Boom! Larson was still a struggling dramatist and songwriter and this musical is about life as a starving artist. tick, tick … Boom! is better than Rent which was an obnoxious idealization of artists working in poverty that used AIDS in a way that was cloying. tick, tick … Boom! is much more earnest about the difficultly and unglamorousness of trying to be creative while being distracted by personal and economic pressures. The film captures that struggle effectively and especially the temptation to quit. One of Larson’s friends (Robin de Jesus) is a former actor turned advertising executive and the comfort and stability of that life is attractive but it would require Larson to give up on his dreams. As a story set in the New York City theater scene of the 1980s, tick, tick … Boom! also deals with the AIDS crisis and it does so in a straightforward and mature way. The film is tinged with an awareness of mortality. tick, tick … Boom! is also about the creation of personal and unusual art and the way that kind of work is excluded from a corporatized show business climate that relies on familiar formulas and intellectual properties. This idea gives extra heft to the film’s themes of artistic integrity and financial struggle which playout in Andrew Garfield’s outstanding performance.

What Doesn’t: tick, tick … Boom! has some inherent challenges in its adaptation to film. The material is not inherently cinematic and the filmmakers struggle to make it visually interesting especially in the first half. The history of this musical is somewhat complicated. tick, tick … Boom! was the first musical that Jonathan Larson had produced and it was created as an expression of frustration and disappointment after Larson’s previous show failed to get any traction. tick, tick … Boom!  was reworked after Larson’s death, accounting for his success as the creator of Rent, and the film reflects that version. But this alters the intent and meaning of Larson’s initial work. The film version of tick, tick … Boom! is stuck between the downbeat feelings of Larson’s original musical and acknowledging Larson’s ultimate success and his untimely death. This postscript largely comes across as an afterthought added out of obligation.  

DVD extras: Available on Netflix.

Bottom Line: tick, tick … Boom! is derived from a compromised work and so the film is itself compromised. But what remains is an impressive musical about creation and mortality with a strong performance by Andrew Garfield.

Episode: #887 (January 16, 2022)