Thursday, March 30, 2023

In the Reels: Larson lives on in ‘Tick, Tick…Boom!’

By Cameron Kaercher

Lin-Manuel Miranda is a household name thanks to the Broadway blockbuster, “Hamilton.” Melding rap and U.S. history, the playwright and actor won two Tony awards and his career has since blossomed. 

His latest endeavor is directing a feature film.

“Tick, Tick… Boom!” stars Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson, the playwright behind the rock musical, “Rent.” This story takes place five years before that musical, as Larson tries to come to terms with his first attempt at bringing a musical to life in the form of a rock monologue. As the film shows Larson struggling to workshop and write “Superbia,” based on George Orwell’s novel “1984,” it flashes back and forth between the monologue and his memories.

It’s not the easiest story to put onto paper. Tonally, the film may be difficult to pin down as well. 

An opening narration reminds the audience that Larson will pass away before “Rent” even debuts. At this moment, co-editors Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum bring in real-life footage from that opening night where actor Anthony Rapp dedicates that performance to Larson. 

The opening musical number, “30/90” is an existential head-bopper where Larson voices his fears about turning 30 in the 1990s. The standout lyric in the whole film refers to death, “at least it only happens once in your life.”

More traditional musical numbers such as “Sunday” see Larson bemoaning his day job as a waiter at the local diner. He is put through the wringer on the titular day for brunch as demanding customers pull him every which way, but all he can think about is his music. 

“Boho Days” is a stripped-down, spur-of-the-moment celebration of his paycheck-to-paycheck life. He celebrates his bohemia with his friends and loved ones all while worrying that he might be wasting his life while enjoying it.

As made clear by the title, the whole film has a countdown looming in the background. Larson is running out of time on a grand scale, and in a tighter, more literal way he only has six days to finish a central song for “Superbia.” This ends up manifesting in a literal ticking clock which can be heard periodically in the film. 

Miranda’s direction brings some clever designs like the ticking clock and his passion for musical numbers gives him a strong hand when those sequences kick in. His clout in the Broadway industry also allows him to pull in quite the lineup of cameos, some of which include; Andre De Shields, Chita Rivera, Richard Kind and Phillipa Soo.

However, the real reason the movie works so well is Andrew Garfield. He is such a charismatic actor who knows how to pitch those darker, but humorous musical numbers, and he has the dramatic chops to hit it out of the park when things get emotional. The only real surprise is how talented of a singer he is. The songs ask a lot from Garfield, with rapid lyrics and long crescendoing powerful moments, and he is up to the task. It is another typically great performance from Andrew Garfield.

With “Tick, Tick… Boom!” screenwriter Steven Levenson has redeemed himself from his last movie-musical adaptation, “Dear Evan Hansen.” This is what a real movie musical should be. It has memorable music, a great lead performance, and enough emotion to tug at some heartstrings. 

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