Tick, tick… Boom! review: Andrew Garfield is electric
James R | On 19, Nov 2021
Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, Vanessa Hudgens, Bradley Whitford
Where to watch Tick, tick… Boom! online in the UK: Netflix UK
Despite the fact that he was the genius behind the seminal musical Rent, Jonathan Larson isn’t exactly a household name. Tick, tick… Boom! doesn’t initially seem like the catchy, commercially friendly title to correct that. That is, until you’ve watched it.
Andrew Garfield stars in the musical, which takes as its subject the writing of a musical, only for that musical to be a flop and be replaced by another musical. That musical is Tick, tick… Boom!, the musical Larson wrote before he went on to create Rent – and that self-aware streak is precisely the kind of theatricality you can expect from the luvved-up fest of earnest feelings, preening narcissism and banging tunes (prepare to have 30/90 in your head for days).
Garfield, who recently delivered an astounding turn on the stage in Angels in America, carries over that same gob-smacking mix of flamboyance and vulnerability, and blends it with a determination to make a mark on the world. We meet his Larson as he’s 29 years old, working in the Moondance Diner by day and hoping to change Broadway musical history by night. After all, Stephen Sondheim (played here with warmth by Bradley Whitford) made it big at a young age – why not him? That balance of precocious talent and entitlement could be a toxic, annoying combination in the wrong hands, but Garfield’s heartfelt presence means we never once stop rooting for him – even as the script acknowledges Larson’s flaws, some judicious fourth wall-breaking keeps us firmly in his pocket.
It’s hard not to be impressed by his apparent virtuosity, which finds tunes and rhythms in everyday objects and moments – belted out not just by Garfield, but by a cast that feels electrically charged by his energy, from Robin de Jesus as his best friend, Michael, to Vanessa Hudgens as a member of the ensemble trying to bring Larson’s latest work to life. (That this work – a sci-fi rock opera – is called “Superbia” is par for the course.)
Keeping things grounded throughout is the remarkable Alexandra Shipp as Jonathan’s girlfriend, Susan, who is repeatedly brushed aside by the unthinking prodigy as he focuses on his creative baby. That she gets musical numbers to remember in her own right is not only testament to Shipp’s performance, but to the razor-sharp script and original book, which explicitly make a point of her character needing depth.
What ensues is a beautifully dizzying maze of post-modern imagination, which pierces its own reflexivity with keenly felt emotion. Why does Larson write like he’s running out of time? There’s no one better qualified than Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to answer that question, and he makes a thrillingly confident directorial debut doing so. Effortlessly translating stagecraft to screen, he jumps from grand, sweeping camera moves to handheld sequences with a natural wit and dynamic pacing, never letting things stand still while finding room and space to pause to absorb the heartbreaking reality of the AIDS epidemic unfolding in the background.
The result is a gorgeously observed portrait of creativity in motion, of the unfolding and fine-tuning of an idea into something that lives and breathes. At its heart is a lingering question: what are we meant to do with the time we have? You’d be hard pressed to find a better answer than watch this. If it doesn’t turn Jonathan Larson into a household name, it will certainly make sure nobody forgets Andrew Garfield’s any time soon.
Tick, tick… Boom! is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.