Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Vanessa Hudgens
Released: 19th November (Netflix)
‘Why do we play with fire? Why do we run our finger through the flame? Why do we leave our hand on the stove although we know we’re in for some pain?’
The dichotomy of our creativity so regularly switches between unquenchable love and paralysing fear. This endless burning desire to enrich the world with our output, hoping that the authenticity in what we create will strike a chord with the masses. In return, generously giving us the level of comfort that has long evaded us—equalised by the growing exhaustion of the repetition of our process, leaving us questioning our place in such a saturated, cutthroat business.
Hitting major life milestones with little fanfare as the ticking of our body clock increases in volume, conscious of the time that has passed. Prompting questions like, has the journey been worth what it has cost us emotionally along the way? Has the art wrongfully taken priority over those we’re adamant about mean the world to us?
This is the frenzied mindset of one Jonathan Larson on the brink of his 30th birthday, with the pressure cooker environment of living in the Big Apple taking ‘bites’ out of his confidence. The relentless sweatbox that is the Moondance Diner may satisfy the cravings of easily agitated custom, but at the end of each gruelling shift only leaves him with food for thought.
Serving us a sincere, show-stopping portrait of a composer who was thrillingly bohemian and snatched from us far too abruptly at the age of 35. In fittingly paying tribute to a man who redefined what issues could be thoroughly explored on stage with Rent, the emotional charge and sheer goodness of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s interpretation of tick, tick… Boom! I suspect will live rent-free in many a mind going forward.
Armed with a passion project by the name of Superbia, Jonathan is hardly apologetic about emphasising how laborious the process has been in developing it yet is adamant, it’s his golden ticket out of obscurity. His go-to comparison of theatre legend Stephen Sondheim having his first hit at 27, a weighty signifier of the sheer pressure he puts on his shoulders to succeed.
Jonathan’s anxiety is heightened by the thriving careers of his gifted girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp), who believes her destiny lies outside of New York City, whilst the boisterous charm of best friend Michael (Robin De Jesus) is working wonders in the world of advertising. All these characters seek security against the backdrop of a community that is being decimated by the AIDS epidemic, where their peers are either panic-stricken or feeling helpless in how to truly be there for each other.
For this writer, whose imposter syndrome strikes on a regular basis. Bearing witness to family and friends being lost well before their own time and fully understanding now how precious each second is. Triggering a deep intensity in my emotions on the simple basis that I firmly believe that art is the driving force in keeping me present and alive, that the nearest and dearest who remain may not always understand. tick, tick… Boom! captures that manic energy that takes over your body exceptionally.
Grounded in the rousing sensitivity of the modest stage, Jonathan performs alongside his playful backup singers (Vanessa Hudgens and Joshua Henry) as it hits the rewind button. Lin-Manuel Miranda has a great sense of space in how he utilises settings for dramatic effect. Jonathan furiously swims the lengths in a pool, in a period where he mentally feels underwater. A series of notes for a new song forming epitomising that even in the deepest waters. Persisting with what we love can indeed bring us back to the surface. The heart-wrenching performance of the ballad ‘Why’ in an empty venue encapsulates Jonathan’s friendship with Michael. Those deserted seats serve as a double meaning for both how Jonathan fears his creations will remain confined to his messy apartment. More poignantly, a metaphor for the queer community of those lost and the moral bankruptcy of those who were meant to lead at that time, turning a deaf ear. You can feel the adoration Miranda has for theatre and Larson in every musical number, complete with a diner sequence that will have die-hard Broadway lovers squealing with glee.
A former Spider-Man, a beloved character whose unlikely theatrical run was deemed a disaster (Turn Off The Dark anyone!?). Excuse me while I swing from the rooftops myself about how incredible Andrew Garfield is here. His portrayal of Jonathan Larson electrifies in its enthusiasm and urgency, showcasing a credible singing voice in this arena that is revelatory, none more so than losing himself in the anthemic 30/90. His stock quite rightly continues to rise with The Boys In The Band and now here. Robin De Jesus’ Michael is a radiant, hearty presence that further amplifies the film’s emotive themes, with Alexandra Shipp doing wonderful work as love interest Susan whose duet with Hudgens ‘Come To Your Senses’ is a gorgeous highlight.
As much a lyrical love letter to the man as it is of its glorious art form, every once in a while, a film comes along as just the right time that feels tailor-made, validating so much of what you’ve felt up to now in your chosen career path. tick, tick… Boom! has exploded onto the scene, and I’m ever grateful for it.
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