Review: Blown away by Tick, Tick… BOOM!

TICK, TICK…BOOM! Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson, in TICK, TICK…BOOM! Photo Credit: Macall Polay/NETFLIX ©2021

Tick, Tick… BOOM! is an exciting and deeply intimate portrayal of an artist suffering from a severe case of main character syndrome.

I feel like I should preface this entire review by making one thing very clear: I am not a theatre kid. Although I have some experience with musicals, the medium itself has never really appealed to me. I say this because I was pleasantly surprised when watching Tick, Tick… BOOM!

Not only was it well performed and directed, but its characterization created one of the most complicated, yet charming protagonists I’ve seen in a while.

Tick, Tick… BOOM! is the semi-autobiographical tale of Jonathan Larson. It follows the aspiring writer in what is arguably the most important week of his life — the seven days leading up to his 30th birthday.

It is a film about art, grief and loss, as well as the parasitic nature of the creative process and the dangers of pursuing your dreams, no matter the cost.

First and foremost, Andrew Garfield is absolutely fantastic as Larson. His character is just bursting with a kind charm and excitement, rendering him both a loveable goofball and a narcissist obsessed with changing the world.

Lin-Manuel Miranda proves himself to be a capable director both on the stage and behind the camera as he draws out a wide range of emotions from his actors.

Tick, Tick… BOOM! contains many beautifully-constructed scenes, most of which are musical numbers. As opposed to forcing the musical elements of the story into the narrative, the film instead has them exist in a surreal space that is distinct from where the actual characters exist.

The film also does a good job at portraying chaos.

Larson’s day-to-day life is full of so much chaos that it is completely out of his control. This is shown to the audience directly with the use of surrealist musical numbers that seem to break reality for moments at a time as Larson tries to use the esthetics of his suffering to create art, a practice which does more harm than good for those around him.

The biggest and, for me at least, most interesting idea put forth is the nature of the starving artist.

The common tale of artists living in horrible conditions, desperately reaching for some form of greatness that appears just out of grasp. While often we applaud those who do manage to get ahead, it should also be noted that this type of behaviour is not without consequences.

Larson is self-destructive in his search for success.

He is convinced that New York City is made for people like him, that his struggles are admirable and even honourable and he will be rewarded in some cosmic way. He uses the broken lives of those around him as fuel for his creative fire.

Larson is not some great idol to look up to; not some genius that we can truly understand. He is like everyone else: relatable and flawed, but fighting for a dream.

Another interesting choice made by the film is just how realistically it paints panic and anxiety.

Throughout the narrative, Larson sinks further and further into himself. Opposed to the stereotypical shy, anxiety-ridden mess we often see in these types of films, Larson weaponizes his anxiety into a form of arrogance that renders him both the life of the party and emotionally-guarded.

Tick, Tick… BOOM! is worth the watch as a character study alone. It has so much depth that you can easily spend hours pulling back the layers to these characters. But even without that, its beautiful camera work and tight storytelling make it an entertaining watch no matter how you feel about its characters.

My only real issue with it is that during one climactic swimming scene Andrew Garfield shows himself to have quite a terrible breast stroke.