Maybe it’s an unpopular opinion, but Tick Tick…Boom! isn’t a blast. From the official trailer, the filmed musical adaptation of the late Jonathan Larson’s most personal story gives the impression that it will be a grand, theatrical masterpiece. One that really ends with a bang. Sadly, this take on the musical tries too hard to make you feel like you’re watching a show on Broadway, complete with exaggerated performances, out-of-place music numbers, and rushed ending.
Tick Tick…Boom! is the directorial debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda, and it honors the life of musical theatre writer Jonathan Larson at the beginning of his career. After writing his off-Broadway autobiography Tick Tick… Boom!, Larson later wrote the universally famous musical, Rent, which played on Broadway for over a decade.
Andrew Garfield, fresh off his other biographical performance in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, portrays Jonathan Larson as a broke musician on the brink of turning 30. He’s spent the last eight, precious years of his youth writing and rewriting his unsuccessful sci-fi rock musical, Superbia. No producer wants to buy his work, finding the mix of genres he includes in his script undesirable. Jonathan’s trying his best to prepare Superbia for a workshop that could reverse his luck so far, but the odds clearly aren’t in his favor.
One would think with a plot like that, Tick Tick…Boom! would either have an uplifting or devastating end. And I guess it falls under both, yet it lacks oomph all the same. It reminds of the classic storytelling lesson, show, don’t tell. Well, Tick Tick…Boom! relies far more on the latter. The musical tells you Jonathan’s fate instead of showing you the outcome though the film’s action. And this “telling” decision makes you feel like you got cheated out of watching a superior musical. The entire plot builds up to whether or not a producer will buy into Larson’s prototypical work, so he can finally solve his financial problems and launch a real career as a playwright, but the ending we get is not the ending Tick Tick…Boom! deserves.
For the many viewers who already know what happened to Larson, they might be wondering what the point is behind a movie based on his second musical. Why show it on a screen at all? And to those who aren’t familiar with his story, the final note comes off as lacking.
Tick Tick…Boom! is a bizarre patchwork of mixed and matched scenes that don’t really flow together. Far too often, Jonathan delivers a long monologue, the same one he’s done many times before as he discusses his life experiences with a microphone toward a faceless crowd. We don’t get much context, and the flashing back and forth between these scenes and the performances are needlessly choppy. It’s a creative way to emphasize Jon’s love of theater, sure, but the repetition lacks purpose for all its annoyance. At times, I hoped all this arbitrary editing would tie into the ending in some meaningful way, but it just…doesn’t.
One interesting element in Tick Tick…Boom! is the visuals, particularly when Jonathan—who decides to go for a swim so he can decompress from the stressful, ticking clock of his pending workshop—suddenly gets delusional and starts envisioning music notes on the bottom of the pool floor. It’s pretty interesting to see how much music and his desire to be successful before he hits 30 consumes every facet of his life, even when he’s not looking for inspiration. And this is one of the few areas where Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial abilities show real promise.
It’s also compelling to see how Jonathan’s music consumption affects his relationships, particularly his love life. He’s so focused on his own life path that he fails to pay attention to the lives closest to him. Jonathan’s dramatic interactions with people he’s close with help break away from all the theatrical numbers, do we can dive deeper into the true stakes of his life. But despite some of this captivating drama, the scenes don’t make up for the disappointing, letdown of an ending.
Unless you’re a theater nerd and/or Larson mega-fan, Tick Tick…Boom! may be a little too over-the-top and nothing all that special to seek out. Like Jonathan, who struggles to sell his musical because it doesn’t have that Broadway spark, Tick Tick…Boom! also misses that same draw. Larson’s Rent may be loved by many, but just as Jonathan feels the time tick by in Tick Tick…Boom! as he nears 30, viewers may hear the clock tick, tick, tick as they watch the hour and fifty-five minute production continuously leaving them feeling unsatisfied.
Tick Tick…Boom! is available to stream on Netflix.