Musical 'Tick, Tick... Boom!' is a vibrant take on a Broadway legend

Posted at 11:27 AM, Nov 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-19 11:27:23-05

"Tick, Tick... Boom!" is a film for dreamers and those who envy artists who follow their passions through dead ends and heartache, regardless of whether they'll lead to success or failure.

One of the year's best films, it's a catchy musical and a powerful biopic at the same time. Thank heavens it's debuting Friday on Netflix, where you can play it over and over again without having to go to the theater.

Andrew Garfield stars as musical impresario Jonathan Larson, who wrote and performed the musical on which the film is based on stage. The story catalogs his late-20s struggles as he tried to break into the Broadway scene, struggling to get by as a waiter living in a crummy apartment. As he deals with rejections, disappointment from his parents and self-doubt — the ingredients that would one day come together to create his masterpiece "Rent" — are coalescing.

The film is in just about the best imaginable hands. Steven Levenson, who wrote the Broadway book for "Dear Evan Hansen," writes the screenplay, and "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his feature film directorial debut.

Both Levenson and Miranda were inspired and deeply were influenced by Larson's career, and their passion for the material shines through. After an awkward start, the film finds its flow, slowly stirring up wells of emotion and rolling out one show-stopping song after another.

A procrastinator and dreamer given to flights of whimsy, Larson often checks out mentally and emotionally and imagines moments in his life unfolding as impromptu musical numbers. Miranda rides the magical realism momentum into the ether, crafting a narrative that tags along on the magic carpet that is Larson's imagination into parts unknown.

Garfield's performance is top-notch not only in the dramatic moments but superb in song. He's joined by the likes of Alexandra Shipp, Robin De Jesus, Joshua Henry, Judith Light and Vanessa Hudgens, all delivering performances that shift back and forth — from the demands of the given scene — from quiet understatement to over-the-top pizzazz.

In addition to being moving and informative, "Tick, Tick... Boom!" is a ton of fun. A welcome break from the usual dreary succession of Oscar-bait films, it's a joy to watch and re-watch.

The movie captures the spirit of the man who's its subject, who wasn't above setting aside the needs of loved ones in a desperate pursuit of success. But the renown and appreciation that Larson craved wouldn't come until his star burned out.

Larson died in 1996 of heart issues, just as "Rent" was about to debut off-Broadway. It went on to play on Broadway for several years, made national and global tours and was adapted to film in 2005.

The credits are accompanied by home videos showing Larson in his element, and send you away with chills. That's just the way he would have wanted it.

RATING: 4 stars out of 4.

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