ticking boom! Film critic

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Lin-Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of RENT creator Jonathan Larson’s semi-autobiography features fantastic tunes, solid direction, frustrating storytelling, and one of the best main performances of the year.

New York City. January 29, 1990. Composer and playwright Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) turns 30 at the end of the week. SUPERB, the dystopian sci-fi musical he spent most of a decade writing, is about to have his very first full workshop. It’s a critical moment for Jon, who could well make his career (or ruin it irreparably). Yes SUPERB bombs, Jon will be stranded before even setting out to sea. To increase the pressure, the show lacks a critical song, a tune on which the whole affair will turn.

To push further into the red, Jon’s relationship with his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) and best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús) is unraveling, and that’s mostly because of him. And we are in 1990. The AIDS crisis rages on, encouraged by evil men with dead eyes like Jesse Helms. Jon has lost too many friends, too many of them younger than him.

Deep in Jon’s head, he hears a ticking sound. A countdown to what he’s not sure about, but he sure can’t be good. A revelation ? A resignation ? An explosion? Silence? tick, tick, tick… Whatever happens to Jon in the week to come, there is no going back. The world is just spinning forward.

Netflix

by Lin-Manuel Miranda tick, tick… BOOM! (for the sake of typographical simplicity tick tick BOOM! from now on) is a really good movie that could have been fantastic but for a storytelling decision that’s understandable, but puts the hamstring in a key part of the picture. Having said that, what does work? It works damn well.

First and foremost, Garfield is phenomenal like Jon Larson. In addition to mimicking the style and body language of the real man, Garfield captures the thoughtful, self-questioning spirit of the original. tick, tick… Boom! (a semi-autobiographical one-man show that Larson performed in the early 1990s, which was reworked into a three-person musical in 2001, then reworked again for this film). He is a passionate and motivated man, capable of a deep and genuine love, who is more than willing to do the work that comes with his vocation. He is also selfish, blind, and prone to spiraling himself rather than facing things. And all along tick tick BOOM! it will be dangerously close to collapsing.

Whether Jon shines or looks up and sees the anvil of truth descend upon him, Garfield makes him feel real. It’s a performance that reminds me a bit of Kristen Stewart’s extraordinary turn as Diana of Wales in Spencer, a performance that builds Jon as many sensations as it does leisure. He’s also, to my untrained ear, a pretty solid singer, especially considering that tick tick BOOM! It is the first time that he sings professionally.

tick tick BOOM!
Netflix

And tick tick BOOM! has such songs to sing. Whatever else we can say about Jonathan Larson’s successes and failures as a creator, the guy could write a song. tick tick BOOM! is an eclectic show, opening with an explosion of rocking anxiety in “30/90” and skipping all over a hammering ode to living in a non-shabby apartment (“No More”) to a passive-aggressive argument in passing through the country (“Therapy”) to a few classic heart pullers. There is no bad tune in the band, and aside from Garfield, Miranda’s cast includes a group of talented singers, including Jesús and Vanessa Hudgens. In other words? tick tick BOOM!the soundtrack is very easy to replay.

As the first theater director, Miranda is doing quite well. He choreographs the dance between tick tick BOOM!his music and his camera, skillfully sculpting his images to the rhythm and feel of each song. This is best seen in the “Therapy” sequence, where Miranda and editors Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum follow the increasingly frantic pinball of Garfield and Hudgens’ expressions as the song goes up and up, to suddenly cut off that hilarity at the end. in the rawness of Shipp and Garfield’s arguments. It’s a very beautiful job, a job that uses the dissonance between song and fight to enhance both. The are moments that slip into the too precious and flashy, but not too much.

tick tick BOOM!
Netflix

Or tick tick BOOM! The stumble for me is in its storytelling and script – primarily the decision to present the film as a full-fledged biographical sketch rather than a semi-autobiography, to make Garfield “Jonathan Larson” as opposed to “Jon”. As the film opens with a cheeky statement that this is a true story except for the parts Larson made up, it really wants to be a tribute and a study of man. But set up tick tick BOOM! as a story about “the real Jonathan Larson”, rather than a story that Larson himself told (as in the series’ original rock monologue) or a story about a semi-fictional Jon (as is the case in its full musical form) leaves the resulting image a bit threadbare in places.

Shipp and de Jesús do a very good job as Susan and Michael, but their stories lack the specificity of Jon’s. In tick tick BOOM!previous incarnations of, the intimacy / fictionalization of the storytelling construction (this is a lot of Jon’s headspace, and while the details of his life are specific, the feelings they invoke are more important that their granularity) meant that their characters didn’t need the same level of detail as Jon. tick tick BOOM! the film explicitly making Jon Jonathan Larson and taking such care with its presentation undermines the very piece it adapts by unbalancing the text.

At its weakest, tick tick BOOM! it’s like pasting an elegant realistic portrait in the middle of a beautiful cartoon. The two can be splendid on their own, but without precision, the resulting combination will be more of a moosh than a transformation.

Netflix

The dissonance between the portions of tick tick BOOM! who want to be a biography of Jonathan Larson and the parts that want to be an adaptation of his work are entertaining, and significantly. He’s a creative dud born out of good intentions (wanting to pay homage to Larson’s life), but it’s a big enough problem to keep the picture from being perfect. That said, what clicks tick tick BOOM! clicks really. Larson’s music was great on stage and it’s great on film. Miranda, minus a few overtly precious moments, proves to be a talented filmmaker.

And Garfield. man. What a trick. Even by his usual high standards (he is one of the very a few actors that can match a fully connected and locked Nicolas Cage to generate a feeling with a role), his Jonathan Larson is truly a splendid ride – it’s one of the best leading male performances of 2021. If tick tick BOOM! had nothing else to recommend, Garfield would be worth the time alone. Corn tick tick BOOM! has a lot to recommend. It’s a very good movie, which I’m happy to have seen.

tick, tick… BOOM! is now playing in select theaters and arriving on Netflix on November 19, 2021.

tick, tick… BOOM! Trailer:

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