“Tick, tick… BOOM!” thrums with a theatrical spirit, electrified entirely by Andrew Garfield’s performance as Jonathan Larson, the creator of the musical “Rent.” Lin-Manuel Miranda directs this adaptation of Larson’s own musical, with songs and score. Following a semi-biographical account of the creation of Larson’s first project, his ever-nearing thirtieth birthday has him contemplating whether he’ll be able to make it big on Broadway. Thankfully, it never feels like one of those pretentious biopic going through the motions that crop up year after year.
Miranda does a good job at giving the viewer enough information about Larson’s own life that you don’t really need any prior knowledge about him, or to have even seen “Rent” to enjoy this one. Themes include the pains of being a writer, friendship, family, and struggling to pay bills while trying to avoid taking a job outside of your creative passion. Even those who might not gravitate to the musical format can connect to the very real emotions stirred up by this story.
The film takes place in New York City, 1990, with AIDS playing a large part in the bittersweet tempo of the film. As far as the music goes, most of the featured songs focus on clever writing, with unique metaphors and cute turns of phrase, but ultimately making them a little less memorable after the fact. Everyone performs with their all, making the viewing experience gripping and engaging. One song, “Sunday,” takes place in the Moondance Diner, which I thought was a fictional restaurant from “Spider-Man 2”, is fun, relatable, and packed with cameos from some of the biggest names from Broadway.
Despite dragging in the middle for a bit, the grounded nature really lets the world of theater breathe. There are no bombastic performances with glittering lights and colors, choosing instead to highlight empty studio spaces—one person, one piano. Garfield is a fantastic actor, giving his all for his roles, and here he delights on-screen with Larson’s mannerisms perfected. When he emotes you know what he’s feeling, and his hair alone is worth checking out this movie for. Vanessa Hudgens, while marketed as a draw, is less a character and more a vehicle for incredible vocals but her charm is easily clear.
“Tick, tick… BOOM!” is a gem within the rank miasma of Netflix’s many, many misses. Fresh, original, it’s the kind of musical you’ll know within the first minute if you should stick with it.