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‘…this isn’t a wake, but a celebration: Miranda and Garfield have made a cinematic musical for the ages, one that detonates expectations with creative energy and mordant wit….’

What a difference a day makes. I was feeling quite apathetic about viewing whatever Netflix had lined up this weekend; last week’s Red Notice tested my belief that the streamer was capable of making anything of cultural significance. After the blast of interest in Lin-Manuel Miranda post-Hamilton, the ‘film’ version turned out to be a recorded stage-event, while the movie of his much vaunted musical In The Heights strangely didn’t connect with an audience. Much like his former teen idol star here, Andrew Garfield, Miranda was beginning to look like the product of media hype, a genuine talent, sure, but maybe a theatrical one who would never quite click cinematically beyond a supporting role in Mary Poppins.

And then pops up Tick…Tick…BOOM!, an adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s musical about his own life, living the Boho lifestyle in New York before his huge success with Rent. As the title suggests, there’s a countdown going on, and as the numbers get smaller, Larson (Garfield) has a rising sense of his own mortality. His relationship with Susan (Alexandra Shipp) is fizzling, his friends are quitting the arts and getting well-paid jobs, and HIV/AIDS has taken away many of those he cared about. The kitchen sink is full of dishes, Larson isn’t getting any younger, his savvy agent is too savvy to return his calls and he still hasn’t come up with a climactic song for his latest musical venture, which has a looming workshop in front of an audience of invited glitterati, possible including Stephen Sondheim.

Perhaps Tick…Tick…Boom! isn’t the kind of musical that garners universal praise; it doubles down on the Broadway feel and delves into a familiar niche of artistic angst and self-pity that has been the graveyard of many talents. So if you’re averse to a show-tune, crack open a beer and watch the big game instead; Larson’s score has a dozen songs and they’re all better than you could hope for. So the core material is great, but is the film any good? Despite the wealth of high profile projects so far, this is Miranda’s first film as a director, and he knocks it out of the park with a sizzling, creative approach that suggests an upbeat variation on Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz in 1979; Cabaret’s Joel Grey has a cameo here. Each song offers a set piece, from the stunning opener Happy Birthday to the plaintive ode to the Midtown diner Larson worked in (Sunday) and the caustic two-hander Therapy which sees Larson struggling to avoid putting his own romantic problems into his professional life. That theme, of an artist trying to identify and justify their choice of subject, is a key one here; this song is intercut with Larson and Susan almost making up, before she suspects that he’ll use the experience as the subject for a song, and promptly walks out on him. With time snapping at his heels, what can an artist do?

Tick…Tick…BOOM! may be the least hyped thing Miranda has been connected with to date, but it may also be the most cinematic. While the technique is dazzling, the approach is incisive, and never lets go of the various strands of Jonathan Larson’s creative development, cut short by his death at a young age. Despite the intimations of mortality, that death barely registers as a single card here before the music kicks back in with the rousing Louder Than Words. This isn’t a wake, but a celebration: Miranda and Garfield have made a cinematic musical for the ages, one that detonates our expectations with creative energy and mordant wit.

Tick…Tick…BOOM! is out now on Netflix.



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  1. Thanks to your review, I watched this last night and really enjoyed it. That Happy Birthday song just blew me away. The musical numbers were all good. I’ve only heard of RENT, so it was nice to get this insight into his creative process/daily life leading up to writing the musical he is remembered for. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I haven’t seen Rent yet. Is the film version worth watching?

    • Thanks for this, great to hear you enjoyed it. To be honest, I hated the film of Rent at the time, and will have to give it a re-watch. I’ve been tracking down fragments of the musical that Jonathan is producing here, but the big songs seem to be elusive. But I’ll be chasing up eveything I can in relation to this film…

  2. Ugh, yes! I’ve had this on my “reminders list” on Netflix for like weeks now! I still have to sit down and watch it! But I’m so excited for it! First RENT alone is a great film! But movies about composers life behind the music, well, that’s even greater!

  3. Spiderman’s alter-ego, Garfield the cat, pretending to be a musician? No thank you.
    Not even if Odie bounded onto the stage and shoved a cream lasagna pie into Garfield’s face. Not even then…

    • It’s very rare that once I finish a film, I immediately go back for highlights. The Sunday song is wonderfully presented, the Strand bookshop but has great energy, and the jokes about white rapping are razor sharp, and finish with an unexpectedly funny Cats gag. There’s a tonne of great moments! Enjoy!

  4. Fed up with musicals that aren’t proper musicals. Go make your points with a drama and leave musicals to people who want to celebrate the genre. Even Cabaret or All That Jazz with all its character pain, jumped out of the screen with sensational songs and dance numbers.

    • Maybe I’ve undersold this, but there’s a dozen set piece musical numbers that are full of energy, even if the dance element is weak. It’s not Singing in the Rain, but it’s as close to an exuberant home run as I’ve seen this year…

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