Tick, Tick… BOOM! review

This week we explore the fabulous all-singing, all-dancing real life story of Jonathon Larson, American playwright and the man responsible for making me cry every time I hear Seasons of Love from Rent. Except of course it’s not all roses as we experience his struggle to be somebody against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis, borderline poverty, the breakdown of his long-term relationship – oh, and turning thirty.

I hear you, hun.

Since it’s Oscar season on our blogs, I should mention that TTB was nominated in the Best Film Editing category – and our leading man received his second Academy nomination for Best Actor (the first time was in 2017 for Hacksaw Ridge).

Personally I think this is his second best performance of the year.

How much time do we have to do something great?

Tick, Tick… BOOM! (2021)

On the cusp of his 30th birthday, a promising young theater composer navigates love, friendship and the pressures of life as an artist in New York City.

Directors: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Vanessa Hudgens, Robin de Jesus

*Spoilers*

In the early 90s, Jonathon Larson (Garfield) is juggling working at the Moondance Diner and finishing his passion project, the play Superbia. He plans to showcase his work and, God willing, take it to Broadway. On the cusp of turning 30, he’s freaking out hard and struggling to finish the last song in the show. For him, his upcoming workshop is his last chance to do something with his life.

At a party at Jonathon’s apartment, his girlfriend Susan (Shipp) tells him about a job she’s accepted outside New York. A dancer with her own issues (a broken ankle and long term physio), she’s keen to move to Jacob’s Pillow to teach dance. She asks him to go with her. While his best friend Michael (de Jesus) sees Susan’s offer as Jonathon’s chance to have a more serious future, he fails to give his girlfriend an answer either way.

Eventually, Susan grows tired of waiting for Jonathon to consider her invitation and she leaves. Meanwhile, Michael – a successful Ad Exec – swings our boy a focus group gig for good money. He deliberately sabotages it, angering his friend in the process. Not only is Michael fucked off about the job, he also feels Jonathon is throwing away a life with the person he loves for an unstable career that may or may not take off. An opportunity he himself, as a gay man amid the AIDS epidemic, doesn’t really have.

As Jonathon keeps on keeping on, just, he attends multiple funerals for his fallen friends, who have died of the disease. The group’s pal Freddy (Ben Levi Ross) has taken a turn for the worse too, and is moved into hospital. This devastates Jonathon who’s torn between finishing his last song and rushing to visit his friend.

Jonathon eventually finishes his musical, the night before his presentation is due – and the next day successfully shows off Superbia to a large group of friends, family, his agent Rosa (Judith Light) and his hero, composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford). Unfortunately the play is not picked up which devastates and confounds him.

Will a surprise voicemail from Sondheim motivate Jonathon to keep going – or will he settle down to a more successful (and conventional) career like Michael? And talking of Michael, there’s devastating news ahead which forces Jonathon to re-evalute where his head’s been at all this time.

My thoughts

I loved this and nobody is more surprised than me, I’m not always the biggest musical fan. I guess I just like the cut of Larson’s jib – or, maybe I’m just biased because Rent is my life blood. The songs here are very powerful and fun – I particularly enjoy Come to Your Senses which made me cry. I’m not great at remembering all the songs but I also like the impromptu Boho Days performed at Larson’s house party.

Garfield is fantastic in this role – and he makes you love him even when he’s sabotaging himself and hurting others. I guess you’d be hard pressed not to root for Larson the underdog who just wants to leave his mark on the world, preferably before he turns 30. Who doesn’t relate to the relentless ticking of life’s clock, counting us down to death? I know I do.

What makes this movie so poignant is the fact that Larson passed away at the age of 35, the night before the first show of Rent on Broadway. You can’t get more tragic than that – and this knowledge lends more depth to his mission to build a legacy at any cost. Even if he didn’t know it.

The AIDS deaths are devastating too and really make you think. While I was around during the crisis, I was just a kid with no grasp of what it all meant.

Support is fantastic, particularly Larson’s singer friends, Roger (Joshua Henry) and Karessa (Hudgens) – Hudgen’s voice is gorgeous. She smashes Come to Your Senses with Alexandra Shipp and I love it so much. Rosa the flaky agent is also incredible.

All in all, I will say, I don’t really know my musicals that well but what I see here I dig a lot.

– Genres: Drama ∙ Biography ∙ Musical
– IMDB user rating: 7.5
– My score: 5/5
– Runtime: 115 mins


What does Jill think of this week’s pick? Would she risk everything to get this show on the road or sell-out for a guaranteed monthly pay cheque? Find out here.

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2 thoughts on “Tick, Tick… BOOM! review

  1. I’m so relieved you enjoyed this! Probably around the halfway mark I started wondering what you might be thinking as you watched the film; it feels very much like a love it or hate it movie. I expected this to be the kind of movie where I might make vague comments about the performances without really expecting to remember it, but I loved it.
    Totally forgot to mention Vanessa Hudgens, who I didn’t recognize for a long time because of that ’90s hair. Her voice was perfect for the songs, and her “Therapy” duet with Andrew was fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

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