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The Legacy that is Tick, Tick… BOOM! (2021)

Tick, Tick… BOOM! (2021) is a film adaptation of the 1990 autobiographical musical of the same name. It tells the story of Jon, an aspiring composer living in New York City as he deals with turning 30 while also entering a new decade. Written and composed by the late Jonathan Larson — best known for Rent — Tick, Tick…BOOM! is a celebration of musical theatre, writing, friendship, music, and time. Most importantly, it’s a celebration of life. A celebration of a life that will forever be cherished in the theatre community. A life gone too soon. 

Lin Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, In the Heights) makes his directorial debut in this 2021 adaptation from Netflix. It’s an honest attempt from Miranda, though some of his directorial choices left me rather confused. There’s a musical sequence in the film where two characters are running up stairs and in a very 80s yearbook inspired fashion, the characters’ faces overlap with them already on screen. It’s quite jarring to see, but besides a few cringy shots and decisions, this is a very impressive debut from Miranda.

Johnathan Larson’s rock score is strong and connects the scenes together nicely. Some of the songs are in a different order than in the original musical, but the story structure only benefits from that change. Tick, Tick…BOOM! follows Jon as he questions whether or not he’s in the right line of work. It’s all about Jon and the numerous life changes he and his friends are experiencing at the turn of a decade. 

Andrew Garfield is a phenomenal actor — his Oscar nomination and Tony win say as much — but his acting in this film proves he’s so much more than that. I’ll be honest, when I first heard Garfield was going to be playing Jonathan Larson in this adaptation, I was a little apprehensive. Tick, Tick… BOOM! is a musical, and it’s a musical that means a lot to many people.

I’d never heard Garfield sing, but when the film opened and he sang the first chords of “30/90,” I didn’t only release a sigh of relief, but I was also genuinely shocked. Garfield can’t just sing: he has a spectacular voice that is perfectly suited for musical theatre. He never fails to give his all to every role he plays. When he cried, so did I. When he was excited, so was I. Where Miranda’s direction faltered, Garfield was there to pick up the pieces and keep audiences engaged. If you’ve ever questioned Garfield’s stardom, just watch this film. You’ll never doubt him again. This is Andrew Garfield’s world and we’re all just living in it. 

As a musical theatre fan, and a long time fan of Larson himself, this film spoke volumes to me. Yet, as a writer, this film hit me in ways I never could’ve prepared for. At its core, Tick, Tick… BOOM! is about time. What we do with the time we have. How we make our impact on the world. That constant feeling that time is running out.

As a writer, Larson’s internal struggle — the constant question of ‘what am I doing with my life’ — struck me to the very core. In the film, Jon speaks a lot about turning 30 and how many of the greats had a show on Broadway or published work by that age, and he was still working at a diner. That constant battle against time is something I believe all artists can relate to; how do you become great before you run out of time? How does one cement their legacy?

This time motif throughout the film is even more devastating when you remember that, while unknown to him, when Larson was writing this musical his days were numbered. Jonathan Larson died the night before his last and most famous musical, Rent, opened off-Broadway. He never got to see the great success that show would go on to be. He never got to see the way he changed musical theatre forever. He never got to see what all that time and passion amounted to. For those who know Larson’s story, this film serves as yet another testament to his talent and legacy. It honors him and all he achieved with his limited time. 

While I do believe even casual viewers will find Tick, Tick…BOOM! fun and endearing, this is a film meant for the theatre nerds. This film is chock full of references to all the great composers and musicals of Larson’s time. It’s clear to see where Larson found much of his inspiration, as both a Stephen Sondheim and Rent fan myself, Tick, Tick…BOOM! felt safe and familiar. It is a love letter to musical theatre and its fans. Also, the number of theatre cameos in this film was ridiculous. Almost all of the extras in the movie were famous actors, librettists, composers, and icons of the American theatre world. Even now, as I read other’s reviews and thoughts about the film, they mention countless stars I didn’t catch my first time around. I’m even more stoked to see what I missed on my next viewing. 

Tick, Tick…BOOM! isn’t going to hit everyone in the same way, I have no doubt that many people will not connect to this story the way I did. However, I do recommend it to those even slightly interested. It’s a timeless story about one looking back at their life and questioning what they’ve made of themselves. I think that many will be able to relate to this sentiment, regardless of profession. This film is a spectacular ode to dreamers. Take your time, the world has its own plans for you so enjoy every moment and never stop living. 

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