BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (OPINION) — Despite being saddled with a painfully horrible title, “Tick, Tick … BOOM!” is an engaging tale of the agony and ecstasy that comes with having art as a demanding mistress.
The name of the film might sound like the latest big-budget action offering but Director Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken the stage production based on the life of playwright Jonathan Larson (who wrote “Rent”) and created a loving story of how a person’s passion to create can supersede everything else. The film debuts on the streaming service of Netflix starting Nov. 19.
Mixing staging elements of reality and fantasy, Miranda presents the story of Jon (Andrew Garfield), a young theater composer who works as a waiter in a New York City diner in 1990. He’s living on the financial edge of life depending on the kindness of others to help him keep going as he finishes his first musical.
Jon finally gets his big break. He will be able to stage a showcase of his musical for those in New York who make the decisions about which productions make it to the stage. This break comes at a huge price as Jon’s passion for his work leaves little room for any emotional connection to his girlfriend, Susan (Alexandra Shipp).
The only place where Jon allows his personal life to creep into his musical theater world is in a song he must write for the second act. He uses his embattled connection to Susan to pen the song that could change his future.
Miranda has earned both the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award but “tick, tick … BOOM!” marks his directing debut. He doesn’t shy away from a challenge as he embraces a variety of methods of taking the stage production to the big screen.
There are moments when Miranda focuses on the realities of being a struggling artist but then quickly pivots to more pure adaptation of the stage work. There is a musical number by Garfield and Vanessa Hudgens presented with just the two of them sitting on stools on a stage that completely represents a theater experience.
It is also a place to show how much Hudgens has grown since she exploded on the scene with “High School Musical.” One of the few minor problems with this film is that Hudgens doesn’t have more to do.
The same can’t be said for Garfield. Had he not been able to handle the massive responsibility of carrying this production it would have been called “tick, tick … FLOP!” There was no doubt Garfield could handle the deeply emotional real life sequences but he shows an equal skill in dealing with the musical numbers.
This has turned into the year of Andrew Garfield. Along with this impressive performance, he is equally as good in the very different film “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” He transforms himself in that movie to take on the role of disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker.
Either performance should earn him consideration during the awards season. When the range of the two roles is taken into consideration, he should be a lock for numerous nominations.
Adapting a stage production to the big screen is a tough task. If the filmed version is too literal – as in the case of “Hamilton” – it falters because the feeling that comes with the theater experience is missing. Try to expand a stage show into a more cinematic approach – as with “Cats” – and any natural energy is lost.
Miranda has found the right balance. There are moments – especially those that deal with the AIDS epidemic – that come across like a film drama. He then shifts to a fantasy approach – as in the café scene that’s loaded with Broadway icons – that adds a more magical tone.
The mix works so well that fans of musicals will not be disappointed because there are plenty of elements to love. There are also enough real moments that even those who don’t like musicals should find enough to hold their attention.
Even with the horrible name, “tick, tick … Boom!” should not be overlooked as it is the perfect marriage of film and theater.
tick, tick … BOOM!
3 1/2 stars
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin De Jesus, Bradley Whitford, Vanessa Hudgens.
Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Rated: PG-13 for language, drug reference, rude humor
Running time: 115 minutes.