Directed by: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Written by: Steven Levenson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Robin De Jesus, Alexandra Shipp
Lin-Manuel Miranda has had an incredibly busy and successful few years, beyond working with Disney on several projects, he has had the live stage performance of Hamilton, In the Heights’s film adaptation and now his directorial debut that carries the weight of having to both be a competent film and also capture the true story of the creator of Rent. But Tick Tick Boom! is a good example of both and another knockout musical for Miranda.
In 1990, New York, aspiring musical writer Jonathan Larson lives in a cheap apartment. He spends many days attempting to get his dream Broadway show off the ground, fighting against his own sell by date as a young artist. He is also dealing with his personal relationships with his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) and best friend Michael (Robin De Jesus), especially with the ongoing AIDS crisis.
Whilst the core of the story is familiar, the execution of it is incredibly relatable to anyone in a similar position to Jon. It feels like Lin has been in Jon’s shoes before, yet the film does not make him a flawless character, showing how being an ambitious artist can be a detriment to the people you care about. Yet there is also a sense of optimism and celebration in devotion despite the hard work and rejection one goes through to be a successful artist, something that Jon experiences and learns, which is why the creation of Rent was a true success story for him.
Miranda also manages to help ground the film in the past despite its timeless story, The AIDS crisis of the 90’s gives the narrative an extra punch rather than being used for cheap foreshadowing to the creation of Rent. It is a surprisingly sad film that will make you cry at least once, particularly during the third act.
Acting wise, Andrew Garfield delivers his best performance since Silence, succeeding at making Jon an incredibly likeable figure in spite of his flaws through his raw lovable energy and passion, not to mention being a pretty good singer. De Jesus gets some of the most powerful material in the film and has good chemistry with Garfield, as does Shipp. Look out for a lot of Broadway actors in the supporting cast too.
As for Lin Manuel Miranda’s direction, it does feel shaky to begin with, mainly in the fact the first act feels jumpy and confusing in terms of how the musical numbers are presented, as they switch back and forth between diegetic and non-diegetic. But as it goes on, the musical numbers become more understandable and the songs themselves get better and better. The editing is fast and energetic, particularly during the song sequences, with a couple of them making great use of cross cutting. The cinematography is sometimes impressive and at other times a little uncreative, but visually Miranda captures the environment of New York very well.
Tick Tick Boom! is a heartfelt and successfully inspiring debut feature for Lin-Manuel Miranda, who this year alone has been helping to remind audiences how the medium of musical theatre can translate well to film.