When it was announced that Andrew Garfield would play the lead in the film adaptation of Tick, Tick… Boom!, there was no doubt he’d honor the memory of the late Jonathan Larson with a brilliant acting performance. What is a surprise, however, is just how moving the film is, and how phenomenal Garfield’s voice is for the role.
Tick, Tick… Boom! is a musical written by Jonathan Larson, most famous for creating the hit Broadway show Rent. Larson wrote the musical about his own life experience trying to produce his first musical, which ultimately didn’t make it past the workshop stage. In the show, Larson includes his romantic relationship with Susan, played by the lovely Alexandra Shipp, and his close relationships with his friends as he tries to navigate turning 30 and making progress in his career.
From the moment he makes his first entrance, Garfield’s portrayal of Larson is captivating. Larson is a hard one to portray; obviously he wrote the musical about himself so it was easy for him to step into the role, but other people trying to take on Larson’s creative, outspoken and, at times, manic personality can be extremely difficult. However, Garfield does so with ease, mastering the look, the minor mannerisms and overall persona.
Not to mention, his gorgeous voice; Garfield is responsible for singing in almost every song in the show, which is no easy feat for someone who isn’t known for his voice. Garfield not only performs all the songs well, but knocks it out of the park with dynamics, emotional range and audience engagement. The award show system would appear completely rigged if Garfield doesn’t win an Oscar for his performance – it’s that phenomenal.
Other than Garfield, the entire film has just a deep connection with your soul. Most of the first half will keep you smiling and feeling delightful, between Garfield’s dance number with Robin De Jesús’ Michael and the friend group dynamic of breaking out into song at a party. Though the “struggling artist” theme is present in most of Larson’s musical works, it’s a theme that’s timeless and very engaging. The audience is not only reeled in by the honesty of trying to create something you love and are proud of, but also the difficulty in navigating life changing choices with the people you love.
On the other side of this is the emotional distress of watching the characters grapple with time. Be it the fear of aging and having nothing to show for it or the fear of running out of time altogether, each character struggles with this in some way. Larson was known for his progressive representation of destigmatizing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in his work, which is especially clear in this production as well.
Since the musical is already set in stone with the soundtrack and the storyline, it’s hard for the production team to take many creative liberties other than adapting from the screen to the stage. However, Lin Manuel Miranda’s direction is superb with the liberties he does take. Though he’s known for his creation and acting work in Hamilton, Miranda should be more known for his directing of this film and In the Heights, as well as his written work. He’s a much better creator and director than he is an actor, so he should stick to producing more musicals and film work.
One of the few creative liberty opportunities comes from the production’s casting choices. Aside from Garfield, who clearly carries the show, the rest of the cast is absolutely perfect. From Shipp’s Susan and Jesus’ Michael to Joshua Henry as Roger and Vanessa Hudgens (whose performance was nothing short of stellar) as Karessa. Garfield’s supporting castmates all prove they can hold their own with him, both in terms of acting and performance.
Additionally, seemingly every Broadway legend, from composers like Jason Robert Brown and Stephen Schwartz to actors like André De Shields and Phillipa Soo, showed up for a cameo to support Larson’s legacy. To write out the full list would take a separate story, but it’s definitely a fun activity to try and spot while watching.
Alice Brooks’ cinematography direction is the icing on the cake of this brilliant film. There’s a unique mix of 90s video camera style with high definition widescreen filming to help give context to the period and better mix in the real videos of Larson at the end of the film.
Miranda’s direction, Brooks’ cinematography, the musical’s message and the cast’s performance combined create absolute magic. Streaming now on Netflix, Tick, Tick… Boom! will ultimately become a comfort movie to most, and an inspiration to all.