tick, tick… BOOM! [Review]

Adapting Tick, tick… BOOM! was always going to be difficult. Not only was it not the musical that everyone associated with Jonathan Larson, but working as a semi-autobiographical as well made it a musical adaptation that had to do a lot. And yet, Lin-Manuel Miranda is able to craft a faithful adaptation to the stage show while also balancing the biographical aspect without always falling into the tropes that we all know.

Tick, tick… BOOM! follows Jon (Academy Award nominee and Tony Award winner Andrew Garfield) a young theatre composer who’s waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 while writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. Days before he’s due to showcase his work in a make-or-break performance, Jon is feeling the pressure from everywhere: from his girlfriend Susan, who dreams of an artistic life beyond New York City; from his friend Michael, who has moved on from his dream to a life of financial security; amidst an artistic community being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. With the clock ticking, Jon is at a crossroads and faces the question everyone must reckon with: What are we meant to do with the time we have?

Musicals can be a hard thing to adapt, having to ride that line between musical performances and dialogue. Steven Levenson, who also wrote the book for Dear Evan Hansen, balances every single element perfectly, crafting an adaptation that never runs too long with its numbers but also impresses with its dialogue. Pair that with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s eye and imagination and you find yourself with a film that surprises you multiple times. The musical numbers are grandiose and feel straight off the stage, but at times Miranda does a little something that you can’t help but be surprised by, he is able to make it also work with the 90’s era that it lives in and pair it well with this 90’s aesthetic of the MTV days and music videos.

It is clear that the film was always going to be made by the central performance and Garfield doesn’t disappoint. It is clear that he truly lost himself in this role, giving a performance that anchors the film, it lives and dies with him. Everyone around him is made better for it, especially Alexandra Shipp as Susan and Robin de Jesús as Michael who both shine brightly every time the spotlight is on them. Garfield will be in conversation come award season and it will be interesting to see which performance he garners more attention, his performance in The Eyes of Tammy Faye or with this one, personally, I believe that this is his stronger performance of the two, but we shall wait and see.

If you are a fan of Rent and hope that you will watch how Jonathan came up with this musical, you will be disappointed. This film touches on Rent briefly, after all, it is what we all know him for, but this is something else entirely. This is very much about a man trying to decide what to do with his life when he is at the bottom of the barrel, trying to figure out his next step when the one thing he always wanted to do seems to be out of reach. It’s about persevering and as an artist, it is impossible to not understand that. How many times have I thought about giving up and simply getting a “real” job, stop with the day job and the hopes that one day I will get a break, it is something that everyone who decides to have a career in the arts understand too well.

Tick, tick… BOOM! won’t revolutionize the musical genre, it plays it safe a lot of the time, but Miranda’s direction paired with Stevenson’s script and Garfield’s performance brings something that we can thoroughly enjoy and walk away from satisfied. It’s a story that most of us might not know, a musical that a lot of us have never heard of before, but it is one that we should know because Larson clearly put a lot in it and the love and care that everyone put into adapting this are clear from the very first frame to the last one.