Tick, Tick... Boom! (Review)
Anyone even faintly familiar with Lin-Manuel Miranda's style of creating- whether raps, songs or theater productions- knows that he comes out of the gate like a rocket. His songs are quick, his raps are quicker. His productions move from song to song and act to act without letting the richness of the lyrics or material have a chance to breathe. So, it comes as no surprise that he's created a poetic cyclone for his cinematic directorial debut with "Tick, Tick... Boom!"
"Tick, Tick... Boom!" is the semiautobiographical one-man play written by Jonathan Larson. Mr. Larson's claim for fame was for creating the game changing theater piece "Rent." "Tick, Tick... Boom!" is Mr. Larson's tale of how he navigated life before his works embedded themselves into the public lexicon.
Mr. Larson did what all aspiring creatives do when they're let out on their own, they check to see what age it was the geniuses of their crafts were when they first accomplished their masterpieces- Spielberg (29 for "Jaws") Sondheim (32 for "Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"). They set that age as the goal in which they too will obtain fame and fortune. But it can turn into an albatross when that age passes by and is forever in the rearview mirror making each failure feel like a confirmation of their lack of talent. This is the urgency that drives the drama. Jonathan (Andrew Garfield) is in a hurry to get his play, "Superbia," in front of producers so bidding for the rights can lift him out of his "struggling artist" status. The day-to-day exertion of creating while trying to make a living working in a diner puts his life in contrast to those of his friends who have the same dreams but bailed when they decided the security from a steady job was easier to bear. He can see the dead end his passion is leading him toward and is in a hurry to succeed before he gets there.
Mr. Miranda throws everything he has into this film. The original material was done as a one man show and he uses pieces of that play to intercut with his live action which allows the audience to know what Jonathan is thinking during specific scenes. This helps with the story and gives the piece a literary feel which adds balance to Mr. Miranda's machine gun pace. Such a pace doesn't allow the emotional scenes the time to sink into the audience's conscious. The collateral damage from that weigh heaviest on his girlfriend, Susan (a fine Alexandra Shipp), and best friend, Michael (a wonderful Robin de Jesus). They play major roles in Jonathon's life and the pain caused by taking paths away from their dreams should have had more poignancy.
Mr. Garfield is a good fit for Mr. Miranda. He's up for the pace Mr. Miranda has set. Hitting each emotional note in the short time allotted him, he displays Mr. Larson's intensity as he plows forward toward an end he knew was coming- surrendering his dreams for a "real job"- but couldn't have imagined what type of end life had in store for him. And it's a good thing he kept his pace and perseverance. He left us with three brilliant pieces that upended and changed theater for ever, long before Green Day brought their rock anthem to Broadway.
Mr. Miranda even looked for the kitchen sink to toss into this film but instead found some surrealism which doesn't add anything to it. But all can be forgiven because what Mr. Miranda has done was make a piece of cinema that upholds the glory and creative force that is the theater. In Mr. Larson's story we are brought down to the muck of the creative process; how a theater piece is worked on, the sweat, blood, tears, long hours needed to make a piece right. Mr. Miranda shows the workman like focus of Mr. Larson that keeps moving through all the disappointment. Mr. Miranda also adds some ornaments in the form of several, many, theater legends which are fun to spot. Some of whom, after reading the closing credits, I couldn't believe I missed (Bebe Neuwirth and Phylicia Rashad). It's a diversion and one that breaks the narrative but also turns this piece into what Mr. Miranda and Mr. Larson I suspect had wanted to do in the first place which was to write a love letter to the theater. Although each creator came from different places, Mr. Larson from a position where success eluded him and Mr. Miranda who has risen to the pinnacle of his craft and is able to enjoy it’s successes, the love for their craft is the same.
Anyone with Attention Deficit Disorder will be pleasantly carried along with this film. For those of us who need emotional pockets for which our empathy can take root we'll have to wait for Mr. Miranda's next outing. But at least it had enough feeling running through its vein that we are left contemplating about it long after we've watched it.