Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours, Director – Lin-Manuel Miranda
Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) lives his life through his unrecognised songs and musicals, however he’s struggling to come up with a key song in the build up to a workshop for a musical he’s been working on for almost a decade.
“I’m the future of musical theatre” confidently claims Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield), in a way that feels almost as much of a threat as it does a promise. This big screen take on his hit musical about him trying to get a musical into production is told through a workshop pitch for tick, tick… Boom! itself. In many ways his life is shown to be like a hopeful yet desperate workshop. Full of song and theatricality, wanting to please and amuse those around him, particularly his peers in the industry, and greatly trying to get his work off the ground he’s had very little success up until this point. His chances of proving himself as the next big thing appear to be dwindling as he nears 30, far past the age when many other musical writers and performers had their big breaks. However, he powers through with his eight-years-in-the-making rock opera, Superbia.
Pairing up with the theatricality of Jonathan’s life, further shown through fellow musical writer and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda; in his feature directorial debut, are an array of musical numbers capturing the various moods, tones and musicals that make up his life in the build up to the biggest moment of his career so far, a workshop for Superbia. In fact the musical numbers appear to have their own distinct look and tone to fit this. While an early one about desires and riches almost appears like a music video an idealistic dream sequence in Jonathan’s diner workplace sets itself out exactly as if it’s a stage in itself.
It perhaps seems odd to say it, but it feels as if this story was meant to be told through music and songs. The ode to creativity, particularly within musical theatre, that’s painted out by Miranda and the rest of the cast and crew flows through the musical numbers and helps to create a specific energy. An energy which feels like the traditional exuberant ‘theatre kid’ style and helps push Garfield’s performance and own energy further. The story, much like Jonathan’s life, has to be told through songs and performance. Bringing you in for an, as would be hoped for with such a tone, enjoyable and joyful time from the smile that forms on your face during the opening number – which will likely become an earworm for many who haven’t already seen or heard tracks from the original stage musical, or perhaps will happen all over again for those who have.
It’s this energy and style that carries you through much of the film, and it helps to lift up some of the more traditional lines that the film follows. While not completely straying into anything like conventionality it does have some familiar beats in that are at least slightly shadowed by the musical nature – seemingly knowledgeable of the situation and coming in to save the day. As Jonathan isolates himself to find the perfect missing song in his work as the deadline of the performance to potential producers nears, his relationships become increasingly distanced. None more so than with his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp). Desperately trying to help him find a job, despite his hesitance and what she begins to view as ignorance, she finds herself shut out and nearing the feeling that she’s present for simply nothing more than musical inspiration, which never seems to arrive to Jonathan.
As songs back such instances and help progress the story we find what appears to be a musical that’s almost aware it’s a musical. Or perhaps Jonathan’s views and ability to have a song for everything – even the sugar in the diner he works at – begin to leak into the world, maybe we’re just in his mind throughout or seeing the world from his stage. A stage which we witness being performed on throughout the film as his workshop pans out and forms a musical within a musical filled with odes to other musicals and their creators. And luckily, it’s not as overwhelming as it sounds. The story is followed well all building up to the key moment where Jonathan is almost no longer in control as he’s left in the hands of his assembled and rehearsed cast, alongside producers and key figures; including his inspiration Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford).
tick, tick… Boom! is a film that’s made by musical theatre fans for other musical theatre fans. It has that loud energy within its musical number core where it succeeds most, and manages to distract from the more traditional and familiar beats of the more dialogue-based scenes – sometimes merging both elements to lift things up and show them through Jonathan’s stage-like view. Garfield captures all of this within his performance that further pushes the air of a celebration of creativity, particularly within theatre, that flows throughout the film and in many of the musical and workshop based scenes. All particularly leaning towards a celebration of Jonathan Larson’s creativity, and the style and energy that he held that, from this film, has clearly gone on to inspire many figures within the musical theatre industry since.
A celebration of Jonathan Larson’s creativity and musical work and efforts, with songs and theatrical energy which naturally carry the film and stop the more familiar elements from becoming too much, tick, tick… Boom! is a proud display of knowing theatrical ambition.