Lin-Manuel Miranda’s meta-musical is stirringly brought to life by Garfield, who shines as the eccentric, funny, over-the-top musical theatre genius
The exhilaration of the stage, the hopeless pursuit for that moment of inspiration, thoughts that crowd the mind seconds before the cue, the ticking clock.. these are all-too-familiar situations for an artiste. Jonathan Larson was not alien to this. The renowned musical theatre writer best known for Rent — the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning 1994 musical — rode the highs and lows of the stage in 1990s New York, as the “boy genius” of a struggling theatre fraternity, where years worth of work got rejected in seconds and Broadway remained a distant dream.
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Thus “making art is expensive, but it’s worth every penny,” a refrain that we have heard time and again, yet which holds true through for artistes worldwide, forms the centre of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tearjerker of a tribute to Larson.
Captured as a ‘meta musical’, Miranda zooms into the life of Larson as he relentlessly works on a dystopian, futuristic rock musical called Superbia, which ultimately never sees the light of the day. The narrative interestingly follows Larson on stage, as he shares this chapter of his life, in the original showcase of tick, tick..BOOM!, a contemporary off-Broadway musical that featured him on the piano accompanied by his band. This performance was hailed for its unconventional presentation style. Hence, meta.
Miranda, in a recent interview with The New Yorker said that Larson’s tick, tick..BOOM! is foundational to him, the reason why he wanted to adapt it into a movie. Larson’s story is every artiste’s, before they hit that coveted mark (through luck or otherwise) that catapults them to fame or success. However, the journey until there is bleak. Through the narrative, the audience gets to hurtle through every obstacle that comes Larson’s way. The first song, ‘30/90’ encapsulates an artiste’s angst and fear of the running time, inevitably leading us to think of ‘30’, a similiar track from Bo Burnham’s latest, Inside.
Tick, Tick… Boom!
- Cast: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin De Jesus, Joshua Henry, Vanessa Hudgens and Bradley Whitford
- Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
- Storyline: On the cusp of his 30th birthday, a young musical theatre composer navigates the pressures of life as an artiste in New York City
The NYC of the ‘90s is almost a character in this movie. Storylines that follow Michael (Larson’s best friend played by Robin De Jesus) and his other friends train the spotlight on the AIDS epidemic in the city and the subsequent persecution of the gay community. Larson’s own productions often addressed multiculturalism, addiction and homophobia.
Though the narrative runs a significant risk of falling into a typical ‘hard working, broke yet brilliant artiste finding inspiration to create an exceptional body of work’ trope, Miranda’s take is honest. Perhaps his own experiences in Broadway before creating Hamilton helped with this portrayal. So much so that the recorded glimpses of Larson’s life in the ‘90s that appear as a montage with the credits, complete our outlook towards the personality that he really was.
It’s hard not to draw parallels between the line from Hamilton, “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” as well the clock that ticks in the backdrop here. But here, the ticking attains a layered meaning: it’s both figurative and literal, considering how Larson passed away of a sudden aortic aneurysm, the night before Rent’s first public performance.
There are movies that make you fall in love with its chracters, especially when it is based on a true story; tick, tick..BOOM! is undoubtedly one. Be it Susan (Alexandra Shipp), Micheal, Stephen Sondheim or any of Larson’s friends, they are all people we see amongst us. And, it doesn’t take Larson long to inhibit the minds of those who haven’t even heard of him before. A large chunk of the credit goes to Andrew Garfield who plays the role brilliantly… he deserves a paragraph of his own.
The Spider-Man star shines as the eccentric, funny, over-the-top genius who breaks into songs about coffee mugs one day and exults tremendous energy on stage, on another. The actor completely absorbs Larson’s quirks and body language (which we realise only in the end credits) and somehow makes them his own — the unruly hair, unceremonious leaps over tables et al. And boy, can he sing! Garfield’s own tryst with the theatre comes through in his easy interactions with the stage and music. If on first look, the actor comes across as overtly dramatic, all doubts diminish once we come to know what Larson was really like. Garfield is nothing but a spitting image.
Apart from its story, what makes tick, tick…BOOM! an important creation, is its relevance in today’s world. After a financially hellish couple of years for artistes, this movie is a delightful reminder of why they do what they do. As Emma Stone sang in La La Land, “Here’s to the fools who dream!”
tick, tick…BOOM! will stream on Netflix from November 19