Saturday 8 January 2022

Movie Review: Tick...Tick...Boom! (2021)

A musical biography, Tick...Tick...Boom! adapts Jonathan Larson's stage show with lacklustre results.

It's the early 1990s, and Larson (Andrew Garfield) performs his latest show Tick...Tick...Boom! in front of a live audience. In flashbacks, the incidents that inspired the show are revealed. Approaching 30 years old, Larson is a struggling New York City-based song writer, working as a diner waiter, mostly bankrupt, and living in an unheated apartment. His best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús) has already abandoned the dream of an arts career and accepted a position in corporate marketing.

Larson is working on his first stage musical titled Superbia, but the pressure is straining his relationship with girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp), who wants to pursue dreams of her own. With the deadline approaching for Superbia's test performance and Larson not finding the inspiration to write the show's critical song, his career prospects hang in the balance.

Larson is best known as the creative force behind the Rent hit Broadway musical show. Inspired by his experiences, Tick...Tick...Boom! was one of his earlier, pre-recognition shows, and here director Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) and writer Steven Levenson do their best to expand it beyond stage confines. But a cinematic adaptation of a relatively unknown show about the creative process of another even lesser known show is as ungainly as it sounds, and the film never finds a firm footing.

Instead of defining the characters and highlighting why they matter, Miranda is in a hurry to launch into lukewarm musical numbers that might work in front of an enthusiastic small theatre audience, but land with annoying interruptiveness in the context-free screenplay. Larson's character is summarized early as determined and driven, and the follow-the-dream-at-all-costs theme barely evolves across 121 minutes of running time.

Predictable trouble with the girlfriend, writer's block, and a health crisis come and go without leaving an impression, and the film limps home with trite life is tough and you gotta fail before you succeed messages.

Despite the writing's limited depth, Andrew Garfield throws himself into the role with enthusiasm and agility, in a subtlety-free performance more suitable for musical theatre than the screen. Tick...Tick...Boom! does not lack innocent energy, but never threatens to ignite.

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