Thursday, November 18, 2021

Film: tick, tick…Boom!

tick, tick...Boom (c) Netflix

  Film: tick, tick…Boom! 
In Cinemas and Netflix 

Premise: The tragic death of Jonathan Larsen, the composer of the phenomenon musical “Rent,” of an aortic aneurysm the day of the first preview is well known. To find out what he was like as a young, struggling composer, we only have to listen to Larsen’s songs from his own one-man musical, “Boho Days,” which was made into a three-character posthumous musical and now film musical called “tick, tick…Boom.” Larsen (Andrew Garfield) was writing musicals between shifts as a waiter, trying to keep his relationship with dancer Susan (Alexandra Shipp) afloat and not neglect his friendship with former actor Michael (an excellent Robin de Jesus). The title of the show is the sound of the ticking clock that keeps reminding Jonathan of his lack of success as he approaches his 30th birthday in 1990. The musical he’s been working on for 8 years is the futuristic “Superbia” that he can’t seem to solve, but there’s a workshop presentation coming up. Will Jonathan Larsen ever become the Broadway composer he’s always dreamed he would be? 

My Take: I have a long history with this musical, starting from when it opened off-Broadway in 2001 (the events of September 11 made the title problematic), and it was really the best coda to the whole Jonathan Larsen mythos after “Rent.” So, watching this film, directed by first time director Lin-Manuel Miranda as a love letter to musical composers (like himself) and their fans, was a particular joy. Miranda has so many Broadway Easter eggs that make a fan like me giddy: all the cameos, all the familiar Manhattan locations (including the Delacorte Theater in Central Park) and the underlying message of not giving up on your dreams, even in the face of heartache and near-poverty. How will the general public react is a big question especially if people typically know “Rent” as either a Pulitzer-Prize winning show or an unsuccessful movie adaptation (having some of the original “Rent” cast members playing bums here was a bit harsh). Garfield as Larsen is the soul of the film, and even though you want to shake him when he is making an obvious bad decision, you understand his obsessive personality and even (sort of) find it endearing. Larsen’s music is still the draw, especially when you hear precursor germs of an idea for some songs in “Rent.” There is some awkward gerrymandering of Larsen’s rock tunes with Miranda’s rapping rhyme sensibility, but mostly the songs are well served. One wonders why no one has ever produced “Superbia” either on stage or even a studio recording. Maybe it’s time. 

VIP: The Broadway talent community. It’s obvious that everyone loves Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonathan Larsen will do anything for them, but the majority of the film was made during the pandemic, and they still showed up for the crowded scenes in the diner, the theater or the rehearsal studios. I found particular joy seeing all the working theater composers in the class scene as well as all the musical theater veterans (who I won’t spoil here) in the beautiful Sondheim homage “Sunday,” but seeing Danny Burstein as Jonathan’s father was especially moving. This is not a perfect movie, but like all love letters, even though they might be schmaltzy, rambling and repetitive, they sure hit the sweet spot.

If you want to comment on this review, please do so on my Instagram account.  All reviews have their own post.  And please follow to find when new reviews are released.