Andrew Garfield absolutely soars in the adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s semi-autobiographical production. Unfortunately, Lin Manuel Miranda’s ode to musical theatre, while boldly and affectionately told, often becomes too self-indulgent. Heavy on emotion, but light on depth.
Tick Tick Boom centers around Jon, played by Andrew Garfield, who is an aspiring New York playwright turning 30. It documents his bohemian lifestyle and struggle to continue making art in a world that doesnt value it. The highlight of the film has to be Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of the talented and buoyant character. He fully commits to the role and keeps you rooting for the character despite some questionable choices and behavior throughout the film. He was surprisingly strong in the more performative segments, where I was concerned he would be a liability.
The film plays like the romantic daydream of a kid in a musical theatre class. This is due, in part, to its interesting narrative structure, frenetically bouncing between “one man show” style narration and the story being told. I think Miranda deserves a ton of credit for making bold choices in regard to the format and the editing here. There was obviously a priority to tell as much of this story visually as possible, and Miranda executes some engaging set pieces and stylistic flourishes throughout.
Like a daydream though, Tick Tick Boom can feel unfocused and excessive, weaving bright expressive musical theatre numbers with darker subject matter. Whenever the film narratively approaches something difficult to grapple with, it can’t get beyond surface level commentary, often resorting to questions or platitudes in lieu of saying anything concrete. Given the expressive medium of musical theatre, there is too often a lack of nuance in relation to heavier concepts and this hindered the film for me.
If you are someone who really connects with musical theatre, I think you will find much more to like in this film than I did. The musical numbers are all well-executed, the story is relatable, and the performances are solid. Though I haven’t seen the original musical, it feels lovingly represented here, but the film falls short in its more thought provoking ambitions, leaving the experience feeling rather hollow.