Photo By: Noah Nickel via Netflix
Tick Tick…BOOM! is a stunning film adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical musical of the same name. Fans of musical theatre may be familiar with Larson as the composer of Rent.
The film is stylized with a very 90s look, with sets and costumes that directly imitate real footage from Larson’s life. It’s a very fresh take on a biopic and allows the audience to stay in the dark about exactly how many details are pulled from real life. The songs are good, especially for fans of Rent.
Tick Tick…BOOM! is about the anxiety of growing up and feeling as though you’re running out of time to make it as an artist. Like Bo Burnham’s Inside, it explores the perspective of an artist in his thirties and merges stand-up style musical theatre with film.
The script switches between song and dialogue quickly, using musical underscore during scenes to keep the energy flowing. Ryan Huffington’s choreography is human and lively, allowing the film to move from animated song and dance sequences to dialogue effectively as well.
Lin Manuel-Miranda, someone who has a background in musical theatre, getting to direct this film feels important. It’s clear that a lot of love and understanding went into it. However, the film is about the struggle of smaller artists to make art with corporations dominating the market, and so this message falls a little bit flat with a cast of well-known actors and a director who has worked on multiple Disney films at the helm.
Tick Tick…BOOM! moves between scenes set in the world of the story to fantastical sequences, to moments of Andrew Garfield singing his heart out on stage. It evokes the storytelling of Rob Marshall’s Chicago adaptation, while occupying a very different aesthetic realm.
Fans of the original musical will enjoy the additional songs from Larson’s repertoire, but may miss some of the songs that were cut yet briefly referenced like “Green Green Dress” and “Sugar.”
The song “Brunch,” one of the most memorable numbers in the film, uses sets to transform the world of the film into something epic and theatrical. “Come to Your Senses” is the song the protagonist is struggling to write for most of the film and it works as an emotional climax and is a truly beautiful song.
Garfield is perfect in the role of Jonathan Larson. He has an impressive range and perfectly matches the tone and scale of every scene he’s in. The moments where Garfield is onstage speaking and singing could have been awkward, but are instead raw and theatrical. His singing is good, but he doesn’t allow technique to overpower emotion. Robin De Jesus is amazing as Michael and Alexandra Shipp absolutely shines as Susan, they both match Garfield’s energy and storytelling beautifully and make the world of the film feel full and alive.
The camera work is dynamic and enhances the interesting visuals of the film. It has a shaky hand-held feel at times, evoking 90s home videos, which is also supported by the use of real-life footage at the start and end of the film. The one visual choice that didn’t work were the drastic changes in colour-grading to mirror the character’s emotions and show changes in time. Audiences of movie musicals don’t need over-the-top visual effects to understand when a song or dance sequence is not literal, and the colour changes were over-the-top and somewhat distracting.
Overall, Tick Tick…BOOM! depicts how art can feel trivial in the face of disaster. It is true to the original intention of the musical, embracing theatrical imagery and conventions. It’s a real love letter to writing, to theatre, to art, and to the legacy Jonathan Larson left on musical theatre.