Tick, Tick… Boom!

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Jon’s 30th birthday is approaching. He is suffering an existential crisis because of his lack of success. “Stephen Sondheim was already composing for Broadway at the age of 27!” he whines. Meanwhile, Jon is toiling way in obscurity as he attempts to write his magnum opus. This “rock monologue” has a very elaborate structure. It is confusing, fabricated with convoluted plot devices and various story threads. The best way to describe Tick, Tick… Boom! is that’s it’s a messy play about a composer who writes a messy play. It’s very meta.

Andrew Garfield portrays Jonathan Larson, the real playwright who died in 1996 the night before Rent would have its first performance. The rock musical became a sensation on Broadway. He would posthumously receive three Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. This production, however, is not about that triumph. It concerns a play that Larson wrote well before that called Superbia — a sci-fi musical that was never fully produced. He invested six years tirelessly working on that ill-fated piece. Tick, Tick… Boom! was written by Larson in 1991 as a response to that disappointment and the difficulties of being a struggling artist in general.

Director Lin Manuel Miranda in his feature debut as a director embraces the theatrical setting. He starts the action on a stage where a fictional version of Larson and two singers (Vanessa Hudgens and Joshua Henry) are performing. Later it dramatizes the same action in the real world with the 20/20 hindsight of what came next. It certainly is a bold choice, but picking out a coherent narrative in this mess is an exercise in frustration. The torturous construction employing these affected trappings didn’t stimulate a desire for me to “give a care” about the various developments. Sadly a depth of feeling is neither extracted nor displayed. The musical is emotionally vacant and the songs aren’t memorable either. That is what ultimately makes this saga so hard to get into. It couldn’t captivate my attention.

This is a heavily stylized display for theater kids who live and breathe the theatricality of the stage. It’s self-aware and indulgent. “I’m the future of musical theatre,” Jonathan answers when asked what he does for a living. He excessively contemplates himself. His neurotic need for constant validation becomes an exasperating study of narcissism. He argues with his girlfriend, Susan (Alexandra Shipp), and buddy Michael (Robin de Jesús). The former’s dance career is taking off. The other has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Yet Jonathan is consumed by an overwhelming fog of self-interest. When each one symbolically slaps the self-absorbed artist with their coherent and passionate wake-up calls, I cheered for them both. I felt their anger.

I can understand why fellow songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda was attracted to this project and why he chose to direct it. He loves Jonathan Larson — perhaps even more than Larson loves himself. I just wish that love translated into a compelling movie. I did have a favorite scene though. There’s a lot of cameos. A sequence set at a writing workshop contains several, but the one at the restaurant was the highlight. By day, Jonathan earns a living by waiting tables at the Moondance Diner. The setting is the backdrop for a captivating ditty called “Sunday.” During the song, he imagines the greasy spoon to be filled with Broadway notables. The number is a tribute to personalities who have done theater. Phylicia Rashad, André De Shields, Bebe Neuwirth, Joel Grey, Chita Rivera, and Bernadette Peters as well as many others populate the eatery. It’s an opportunity to play “Can you name the star?” I sincerely welcomed that delightful bit.


6 Responses to “Tick, Tick… Boom!”

  1. I agree. This was a mess. I didn’t care for RENT either, so I wasn’t surprised. The Sunday number was the best part of the whole movie. Wish it had move of the same. 2 ⭐️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

    I also had some trouble getting into this even in the theater and some of the (first time) directorial choices bothered me and I agree virtually none of the songs are too memorable in a good way Save for the he said she said Duet where they juxtapose an actual argument and she even realizes at one point “are you trying to figure out how to turn this into a musical number right now?” That was amusing but yeah while I didn’t hate it I didn’t care too much for it either (ironically I am not a fan of rent either but I did have seasons of love stuck in my head after seeing this for no apparent reason Save my annoyance)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This does seem kind of precious to me, but Andrew Garfield is just so likable and Lin Manuel Miranda, you have to respect his work ethic my goodness. Perhaps that’s what’s the problem though; not enough proper focus on his many projects. Slowing down might do some good and he could bang out a classic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You might be onto something there…Lin-Manuel Miranda has done so much this year including In the Heights (Great), Vivo (decent), and Tick, Tick… Boom! (bad). However, I just got out of Encanto, Disney’s latest animated film, and it’s pretty wonderful.

      Liked by 1 person

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