- Movie Rating -

Tick, Tick . . . BOOM! (2021)

| November 29, 2021

I sat through the opening moments of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick . . . BOOM! with a strange sense of personal investment.  Jonathan Larson, the creator of “Rent,” sings about the pangs of his upcoming 30th birthday.  The timing here is a little odd since just 15 days ago, on November 14th, I turned 50.  I realize that I’ve been blessed because Larson himself will never see this milestone – he died of an aortic aneurysm on January 25, 1996 at the age of 35.

I sense that I may not leave the world with a towering achievement but for Larson it was “Rent,” a musical that would forever change what musical theater could be.  I must confess that I don’t know much about musical theater but I do know “Rent” and I know its impact.  What I learned from this movie was that before Larson created “Rent” there was “Tick, Tick . . . BOOM!” a semiautobiographical musical about a composer infused with fire and energy who longs to make something of himself before he turns 30.  Timing is important, and it would seem sort of cosmically cruel that Larson would die on the very day that “Rent” had its first public performance.  He never saw any of its success.

The timing is very important to Tick, Tick . . . BOOM! but Miranda doesn’t lean on Larson’s short time as a death knell.  It’s there, but the film is more concerned with Larson’s efforts not to waste a lot of time waiting for a very firm Maybe.  He doesn’t want a long, slow climb to the middle – he wants his chance and he wants it now.  The film is a tribute to any creative mind who is struggling to get through the heartbreaking minefield of closed doors and lost opportunities.

Larson is played in the film with fire and energy by Andrew Garfield who shows an breathtaking musical talent.  He plays Larson as a man racing the trains of time.  He has spent several years composing a sci-fi musical named Superbia while working as a waiter in SoHo, a location that is home to one spectacular musical sequence.  Meanwhile his agent (beautifully played by Judith Light) is not returning his calls.  His mentor is Stephen Sondheim and if I mentioned that time is cruel, note I came to this movie at the same moment that the news was dropping of the composer’s own death.  Added to Jonathan’s misery is the fact that he is struggling to finish the key song for a workshop for his show.  Not helping is the reminder that Sondheim finished his first work by the time he was 27.  No pressure!

Coupled with these problems is the prospect that musical theater may not be Jon’s best avenue.  His friends are leaving for other opportunities.  His former roommate has taken a job with an ad agency, meanwhile his dancer girlfriend has decided to take a teaching job.  It’s a cruel world with slim chances and heartache after heartache after heartache.  What ultimately happens with Superbia simply broke my heart.  Worse is that this is the early 90s and AIDS is claiming the lives of friends and loved ones.

At one point, Jon is told to write what he knows.  Miranda has certainly done this.  He knows exactly the kind of world that Jonathan Larson is trying to navigate, and exactly the kind of film this should be.  Larson is portrayed here as a young man of inexperience and immaturity – that’s key because his mistakes are the building blocks of learning.  That’s unusual.  Yes, Larson was talented but he needed to come from somewhere and stumble and fall before he could rise and fall.

Ultimately what is great about Tick, Tick . . . BOOM! is the overriding – but not overplayed – realization that Jonathan Laron’s time is short.  The film is wrapped around a one-man show in which he tells an audience the journey that he’s has been taking (most of the movie is seen in flashbacks) and as he laments his 30th birthday, we lament the fact that his time is all-too short.  He will create “Rent”, it will be a success but he will never get to see it.  Soon all of his fire and energy will burn out too soon and we’ll be left with a great show, but a lingering sense of what might have been.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2021) View IMDB Filed in: Musical