“tick tick… BOOM!” is the name of the musical Jonathan Larson wrote and performed about the failure of “Superbia,” his rock-opera adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 that was to be his ticket to Broadway. Sadly, this didn’t happen. If something good came out of that piece’s failure, it would be the powerfully personal follow up that would lead to the legendary Broadway groundbreaker “Rent.”
“tick tick… BOOM!” is also the name of a brand-new film written by Steven Levenson (adapted from Larson’s original work) and directed, with flair and heart, by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Andrew Garfield gives the performance of his career as Jonathan Larson, who we find in 1990 just about to turn thirty.
Larson is more than struggling to finish the work while he works a low-paying job at a diner, basically living in poverty. His girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp, giving a natural performance with gravitas) is supportive but eventually presents Larson with an ultimatum, as she is offered a job away from New York. His best friend since they were kids, Michael (a fantastic Robin de Jesús) is witness to the strain of failure on his dear friend and has a secret of his own.
Larson’s clock is ticking, and his life needs order. He needs money. He needs a hit musical. He needs for his unique voice to be heard and nothing else will see him through.
Jonathan Larson lived a life of urgency and Miranda brings that feeling to the forefront of this ambitious production. This is a life told in music and through Larson’s words. There is drama and humor and song and dance numbers; each one moving and profound.
Cinematographer Alice Brooks works close with Miranda. Nothing looks phony, as Larson existed in the breath of New York City. Brooks keeps the color palates natural and trains her camera on the pulse of the city.
Even one of the film’s best musical numbers (a wild number at the Moondance diner that is a love letter to Broadway populated with some of its biggest stars) feels grounded in the real world, or at least within the reality of Jonathan Larson’s vision of it.
Miranda’s vision is clever and focused and his love and respect for the musical and the process of those who create speak to Larson’s determination against all odds.
Andrew Garfield proves his tremendous acting skills and beyond, as his singing and dancing performances are perfection. Through the actor’s marvelous work Garfield portrays the pain and frustration and need that inhabited Larson’s life. This is a charismatic and emotional turn infused with soul and a beating, yearning, heart.
This is a film full of good performances (Bradley Whitford has a turn as Stephen Sondheim while M.J. Rodriguez and Judith Light also make their marks), and they are all led by the power of Garfield’s convincing embodiment of Larson.
Jonathan Larson died from an undiagnosed heart defect the very day his masterpiece (and ticket to his dreams) “Rent” was to start its preview run off-Broadway. He was 35.
With “tick tick… BOOM!” Lin-Manuel Miranda has gifted 2021 a loving tribute to Jonathan Larson and the lives that touched him, the film a persuasive memoir of a passionate soul.