Raise your hand if you didn’t know that Andrew Garfield can sing (*raises hand*)! Lin-Manuel Miranda’s debut full-length film is in theaters, and now you can also catch it on Netflix! This legendary playwright, the mastermind behind iconic Broadway plays like Hamilton and In The Heights, employs his signature theatrical idiosyncrasies in Tick, Tick… Boom!—a dazzling musical that is as serious as it is silly. The film is largely focused on the early career of Jonathan Larson (a similarly remarkable American playwright and theater composer), but it also tackles the very issues Larson candidly addresses in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1996 play: Rent.
Unsurprisingly, Miranda displays a colorful sugar rush of showbiz rapture and solidarity while employing every little tool in the proverbial Hollywood movie-musical toolbox. Meanwhile, his well-crafted acting ensemble stands out even more. Lead actor and superstar Andrew Garfield logs a great performance as usual, with an arsenal of energy that sustains the film’s momentum until the very end. However, Garfield also showcases a veteran’s ability to step back at times and let the others shine, with rising actors Alexandra Shipp (who plays Larson’s girlfriend) and Robin de Jesus (who plays Larson’s best friend) emerging as key pieces.
In particular, de Jesus nearly stole the show—with a visceral, heartfelt depiction of a gay man juggling the strife of trying to pay the bills and survive in New York City while drowning in the collective hysteria of an HIV/AIDs epidemic that politicians continuously ignored despite the deaths of millions of people. However, Tick, Tick… Boom! did not stand out as one of the films of the year to me (though it will to theater savants). I respect Miranda and admire his style, but this is constantly clogged with the same motifs. In other words, it is monotonous, with a frequent one-two punch of commentary about how hard it is to make a living in NYC and histrionic depictions of Larson’s early attempts to become a professional thespian.
At the end of the day, nobody can deny that this film is exceptionally creative, spirited, and relentless in its delivery. Furthermore, it is impressive how many songs Miranda—who boasts plenty of time to evolve as a director—wrote for the soundtrack, flashing a penchant for mixing mundane topics into fun and meaningful songs. Yet they devour too much of the 105-minute screenplay, thereby imposing a suffocating amount of pressure on the characters to rapidly develop in a contrived window of time. Still, this will leave you moved and eager to fight social injustices. And that’s what makes art so precious, right?
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