Lin-Manuel Miranda has had an impressive year.
His stage musical “In the Heights” was adapted into a film that was released in theaters and on HBO Max in June to critical acclaim. In September, he won an Outstanding Variety Special Emmy for “Hamilton,” which is currently streaming on Disney+. Miranda also wrote the music and lyrics for two animated films of 2021: “Vivo,” which launched on Netflix in August, and “Encanto,” which premiered in theaters on Wednesday, Nov. 24.
With “tick, tick…BOOM!,” Miranda makes his directorial debut. The film, which arrived on Netflix on Nov. 19, is adapted from Jonathan Larson’s three-person rock musical of the same name. The autobiographical story follows Larson attempting to sell his musical as he prepares to turn 30.
Larson is best-known for writing the Pulitzer-Prize-winning musical “Rent.” However, the movie features a different musical by Larson titled “Superbia,” written years before “Rent” premiered.
The Oscar nominated actor Andrew Garfield plays Larson in this film and once again proves that he’s more than just a Spider-Man. Garfield, who learned to sing and play piano specifically for this role, pays a touching tribute to the late Larson with his performance.
The movie starts with the song “30/90,” which expresses Larson’s woes about turning 30 before he’s had any success in his life. Stephen Sondheim, his idol, sold his first musical at 27 years old, and Larson’s parents already had their first child by 30.
Larson’s worries about time moving too fast become a frequent theme throughout the movie. Larson has spent eight years perfecting “Superbia” but has received no offers for it. His girlfriend, Susan, played by Alexandra Shipp, is tired of waiting and wants to move across New York to Berkshire to teach dance.
While juggling his writing and his relationship, Larson also struggles to pay the rent for his small, Midtown apartment. When he’s not refining his musical, Larson works a low-wage job at a nearby diner.
Larson’s best friend Michael, played by Robin de Jesús, similarly loves musical theater and once longed to be an actor. However, Michael traded his dream years ago for a high-paying job working in advertising. Sometimes, Larson desires Michael’s life of luxury and stability, yet he never gives up his ambitions.
Miranda flawlessly combines the stage aspect of the original musical with the cinematic elements of a movie adaptation. The story is told by Larson as he presents “tick, tick…BOOM!” with two other performers played by Joshua Henry and Vanessa Hudgens. Scenes from the stage are then intercut with the plot of Larson preparing to present “Superbia” at a workshop.
Part of the film’s strength lies in the spectacular songs. The majority of the songs are sung by Garfield, Henry and Hudgens, and they do a terrific job.
“30/90” and “Louder Than Words” serve as powerful bookends to the musical, while “Sunday” features cameos from Broadway legends ranging from Renée Elise Goldsberry to Roger Bart that the weary eye will easily miss.
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The only song that feels out of place in the film is “Play Game,” which tries to parody the hip-hop genre of the time both musically and visually.
Even though Larson wrote “tick, tick…BOOM!” over 30 years ago, the underlying messages seem especially fitting for today. Throughout the film, Larson calls viewers to question unreliable leaders as he navigates life in New York City.
The film also cements itself as a drama with its heavier topics that would be unusual for many musical movies from the past. As Larson’s friends fall victim to illness, the theme reappears, reminding the audience that they, too, are running out of time.
It’s not entirely depressing, as Miranda balances these hard-hitting points in the film with perfectly-timed moments of comedy. And, amidst some of the sadder parts of the film’s endings, I was able to draw inspiration from Larson’s perseverance.
Despite everything terrible that happened to Larson, he never gave up, and he managed to find success. It’s a true story about pursuing dreams that doesn’t downplay the hardships.
Miranda’s film gives him good odds this awards season to join the 16 people with an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. All he’s missing is an Oscar, and this might be his chance.