Even though Outposter Creativityishard/KK doesn’t really hang out here anymore, she has still returned to give us a glimpse into the kinds of genres other Outposters don’t really get to dip their toes into. Basically, she watches these movies so some of you don’t have to. We are a broad church here at Last Movie Outpost, and unlike Meatloaf we will even do… that! Here she is with her review of Tick, Tick… Boom!
So I’ve wanted to write a review of Tick Tick… Boom! for a long time and I am dropping this here at Last Movie Outpost so it gets read. I won’t be part of the discussion as I’m not really a part of the community here anymore, but mentally I had decided I was going to write a review for this movie, and it was stuck in my head to do it… so here we are.
I have a complex relationship with Rent and Jonathan Larson (much like this place and Aintitcoolnews, which is interesting). At the time of release Rent was revolutionary and to a 16 year old girl from the suburbs, it showed a world of art and creativity over guidance counselors, trying to get into college, and corporate America. It made me excited.
The older I’ve gotten the more I see Rent as a naive take on complex issues. But still, the idea of creating art and the value of said art in a society that views side gigs as a norm is something that festers in my head often. I just read a statistic that the average American only has 15 books in their home, which shows the value of writing in our society right there.
The world Jonathan Larson created in Rent is where passion takes priority over societal norms, views of wealth, and questions around what is being successful. Jonathan Larson based Rent on the opera La Boheme, with even the song at the end of the first act called La Vive Boheme in a direct homage to the Puccini opera.
Both La Boheme and Rent deal with epidemics/pandemics and the fall out from that, giving characters and faces to illness versus statistics.
In La Boheme it was tuberculosis, in Rent it’s HIV/AIDS. Both pieces of fiction deal with wealth disparity as well. So there’s something very poetic about a movie coming out about Larson’s creative process and life twenty five years after the original stage production of Rent came out (pun partly intended) as we are living during a once in a global pandemic. There’s something about the symmetry of it all that’s really strangely beautiful.
I had this poster above my bed when I was 16, I was a fan. What can I say?
Tick, Tick… Boom! is based on a one man show Larson worked on before Rent. The stage show which this movie is based on is a semi-autobiographical piece about a young man turning 30 and wondering if he pursued the wrong path. This is when choosing to become a playwright and work in the arts versus a more traditional career.
Can one sense the themes that run through Larson’s art? The one-man show was first shown in 1990 as an off-Broadway work. The stage show also introduced modern audiences to rock monologue/rock opera. This idea uses modern music genres to connect the audiences to the playwrights’ work. Does this sound familiar? We’ve seen this done before even as far back as Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell versus traditional musicals.
The Netflix movie based on the one-man show is directed by Lin Manuel Miranda. But it feels like a love letter to the creative process – a kind of open your vein and pour out everything love letter – to creativity and making art. It’s manic, dark, uplifting, but it’s a love letter for those who put creativity and passion over anything else no matter the sacrifices it takes.
“Why does it take a disaster for things to change?”
Larson wrote this and I want to be very clear this movie is set around the AIDS crisis in the 1990s. If seeing people in hospital beds with glass IV bottles rattles you, then count your gtts per minute and go. Old school nurse joke. Counting drips in an IV, the gtts per minute, to figure out IV rate.
Setting this around the HIV epidemic with young people dying creates a sense of urgency that the music takes its cues from, and once again it ties into La Boheme, Rent, and the current situation.
The cast is made up of Broadway folks and people we’d recognize from musicals. Vanessa Hudgens has been in a couple of productions of Rent even, playing Mimi at the Hollywood Bowl. This was directed by Neil Patrick Harris, who incidentally played Mark in the first production of Rent I saw, that is how long he has been linked to Rent.
She also played Maureen in the Fox television Broadway live version of the show.
Miranda’s long-standing buddy Christopher Jackson (Chris Jackson) shows up as a concert attendee. Jackson has been in everything Miranda does. I really like him as an actor and I love his voice.
Quick and dirty list of Broadway names/faces you may recognize: Laura Benanti, Bradley Whitford, Judith Light, Ben Ross, Joel Perez, Judy Kuhn (composer), Richard Kind, Tariq Trotter (from the collective Roots), Joanna Adler, Jelani Alladin (plays Kristoff on Broadway in Frozen), Chris Sullivan (Laserface in Guardians of the Galaxy), Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberrry, Bebe Neuwirth, Adam Pascal, Daphne Ruben-Vega, Bernadette Peters, Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad (I’m fairly certain that’s her), Roger Bart, Beth Malone, the amazing Joel Grey, and Kate Rockwell.
Another name that caught my eye was Utkarsh Ambudkar, who was the original Aaron Burr when Miranda had Hamilton at a Vassar workshop cast. His take on Dear Theodosia is better than Broadway’s take in my opinion. Dude needs to be a bigger star.
Here’s that link.
Right at the 59-minute mark is a great Utkarsh song. Kate Rockwell also has one of my favorite ever Broadway performances.
Basically, this cast is packed. If you are in any way into modern-day musicals watch this movie just for the cameos. I could link videos of every single person I just listed with their pure star quality. It took a lot for me to limit it to Rockwell and Ambudkar. I think they need to be bigger stars.
Tick, Tick… Boom! is a musical. It’s a musical biography about the creator of one of the biggest phenomenons in Broadway history. Because it’s about a man and his found family, who are all artists, the way the musical numbers are brought in it’s very organic.
Normally in musicals, it is dialogue -> musical number -> dialogue again and again. Larson in this is always creating, so instead of just party dialogue, you get the cast getting drunk at a birthday party, messing around, singing, and dancing.
Jon goes about his day singing because as a playwright creating musical theater that is just what he does.
It’s interesting to have a musical about a man who creates music in a manic way. The story framework is around the one-man show with him talking about friends, so we fade from that to the scene.
I watched this on Netflix, on the television in my bedroom with my cats at 01:05 as a night bird. Do I think it would’ve been better if I saw it on the big screen? Hell yes! Do I think people have to see it in an IMAX with all the bells and whistles? Probably not.
The acting cast is great. Andrew Garfield… wow, that man can act! He was in the adaptation of my favorite book (Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro) and since then I’ve thought he was great. This was once again heartbreaking. This is his movie. Everyone else is supporting him. Everything in this movie is supporting him, down to the lighting, as he showcases a life of a genius.
Is there another actor who could put in as much as Garfield does? Look more like Larson?
Adam Chanler-Berat may look more like Larson… I don’t know. Robin de Jesus was great as Michael, Larson’s best friend. The rest of the cast supports Garfield, and while they do a good job it’s just that Garfield as Jonathan Larson is the center of the film and no one really cares about his girlfriend or his manager and their stories because… well it’s a biography of Larson.
The movie is beautifully shot. It’s set in 1990 and explores the creative mind with touches that kind of explain how a creative mind works. I think Miranda was a good choice to direct this as he is a playwright himself and has the same energy.
There is a song, Sunday, that uses the mundane Sunday brunch at the Moonstone Diner as a creative lightning bolt that is just beautifully. The manic energy of a chaotic brunch rush to a slow-down ballad was lovely. The way it was shot and filmed reminded me a lot of a first act finale song in the big Broadway musicals.
This movie is meta to a certain point. If you don’t know musical theater you may not fully appreciate it. I live on the West coast and have only been to a handful of Broadway shows in NYC, and I know people who live in NYC will appreciate this more than me.
Do I think you should watch it if you’ve never even seen West Side Story? Sure. Because it’s an examination of the creative spirit and seeing that from any place is a good thing.
The movie is very liberal and very much in the spirit of Rent (well duh!), so some people may call it trash just because of open biases. But if you are someone who has a couple of hours to watch a movie, it’s not a horrible movie to watch.
This is going to be nominated for awards. I know my right-leaning ex walked out of Rent when it was transformed into a movie, but she would still see this because it will be nominated for awards.
Okay, that’s my review. I had decided I wanted to write a review for Tick, Tick… Boom! And I have. Have a nice day folks.