Tick, Tick … Boom is a hidden gem from Netflix at the end of 2021 withAndrew Garfield as the main character in the midst of a torrent of blockbuster films that overflowed to the surface after being held for a long time by the pandemic.
The musical-biopic film directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) not only comes with a sublime and heart-wrenching story , but is also relatable to many working artists who know very well what it’s like to struggle between looking for a bite of rice and creating a recognized work.
Tick, Tick…Boom follows Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield), the musician and writer behind one of the most successful broadway shows ever, RENT . However, this film does not focus on the story of the creation of RENT by Larson who tragically died the day before its premiere. Approximately two hours long, Tick, Tick…Boom takes place six years before RENT was created, 1990, when Larson was still torn between continuing with his music career or looking for a certain job.
Tick, Tick…Boom stories are not delivered in a linear fashion. The plot goes back and forth, with the starting point being Larson’s rock monologue stage called Tick, Tick…Boom itself. Through his music, Larson brings audiences to the story of his ambition to create a successful play and be able to appear on Broadway before he turns 30. For Larson, the age of 30 is a crucial point where he must decide whether to continue with his music career or find an office job like his friend who is sleeping comfortably in a luxury apartment.
Meeting the challenges that he made himself was not easy for Larson. The “nuisance” came from all directions, from his friends falling down with AIDS, his girlfriend moving out of town, to the bills she had to pay to keep her apartment’s electricity on. That doesn’t take into account the writer’s block that Larson often faces due to exhaustion after working to earn a living at Moondance Diner, a place where he will meet a number of his cast at RENT later.
Broadway is no less vicious for Larson. Many proposals he made mentally. Towards his set deadline, Larson is betting on one of his newest works, Superbia . Superbia is a rock musical with George Orwell, 1984, as its main inspiration. The story itself is visionary and futurist, about people who have lost their emotions and choose to watch images of an ideal life on the screen. Familiar, right?
Despite his busy schedule, Larson spent eight years working on the script for Superbia . A glimmer of hope came a week before he turned 30. Playwright Horizons’ head of musical theater Ira Weitzman (Jonathan Marc Sherman) is attracted to Superbia and gives her the opportunity to hold a workshop at her theatre.
Workshops, for Broadway artists like Larson, are like pitch meetings for startup founders in front of investors. If successful, then he will have a chance to perform Superbia on Broadway. The pressure is not easy because the legendary musical composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford), also contributed to the evaluation at the workshop. Sondheim is the composer and lyricist for West Side Story, Into The Woods, Sweeney Todd , and many others.
A week is not a long time. At that critical time, Larson had more and more trouble finishing the music for Superbia. He just had a script without any music that became his heart. At the same time, the crisis in his life that he faces is getting more complicated. In those moments, Larson likens himself to a ticking time bomb. He was tired.
The strength of this film is in how Lin-Manuel Miranda beautifully conveys Larson’s struggle to survive in the bowels of Broadway. He visualizes (and voices) Larson’s music and lyrics as effectively and efficiently as possible without too much style. Miranda is well aware that Larson’s music and lyrics are so powerful that all she needs to do is make sure the audience captures the content and context with proper visualization and editing.