To starring in musicals to making two of the greatest musicals to ever grace Broadway to finally directing his own movie, hopes were high for Lin Manuel-Miranda’s directorial debut for “Tick, Tick….BOOM!” And if I’m counting this right, Lin is now……3-0 on blowing me out of the water? Hot damn!
Lin Manuel-Miranda proved when he’s not the musician or writer, even behind the directors chair, he knows just what the hell he’s doing. With a laser-focused vision and deep understanding of the passion, struggle, and ebullience of an artist committed to this type of art-form, both the experience and presentation is explicitly theatrical and every frame squeezed onto this screen greatly captures both the scope of our protagonist’s mind and his ever increasing emotional turmoil.
Hellbent on not throwing away his shot, what Lin lacks in style, Levenson’s writing barely prevents that framing device of the narrative structure from undercutting it’s most important moments guided eloquently throughout by a wonderful ensemble.
Andrew Garfield is a firecracker as the titular lead, paralleling Jon’s spurred personality but also his obsessive immersion into his craft, snatching ANOTHER spot for Best Actor of the Year and he bounces off of the rest of the cast so well and vice versa. Bradley Whitford is impressive, Vanessa Hudgens is still a stellar singer, Alexandra Shipp is weighty and well-grounded with her respective character as underutilized as she was and while Robin de Jesus doesn’t have much to work off of, what he brings to that endgame…..chefs kiss.
The characters and their relationships are tangible but the turmoil they experience is often rushed through to the point that there’s not much time to garner an emotion to gain from them for us to feel anything 100%. But Lin knows when to keep the pressure mounting so the pacing never falters, the energy is never extinguished, and it’s rough-around-the-edges approach to the production design paint a dense but melancholy experience to better place us in that time period.
While the sound design within itself did not take me by surprise, Jonathan Larson’s late music honestly did just that. While the constant ticking is an effective if not annoyingly direct dynamic to express the desperation of time running out, the music bubbles up like a geyser and explodes with so much zest and energy, successful in driving the plot forward without either aspect getting in each other’s way.
But even I admit, the music is far from perfect. Sure, any musical lives or dies by strength of its songs but the structure is just as important also…..and as far as every song almost sounding the same as far as melody is concerned, yeah, that’s a bit of an issue. As well as the sequences that accompany them, the staging isn’t entirely clean and the visual spectacle was….meh.
Plot-wise, the overarching pattern of this story follows that classic recipe regarding the 5 stages of drama and showcases an eerie mirror of stress and paranoia that Lin explored in Hamilton but exasperated in real time, pulling back the thread on several reference points on not just Larson's impending death but the dynamic change of Broadway Larson ignited. The process of getting so close to making it big and falling short is far from an original plot device but that mindset is captured by someone following in Larson’s footsteps who’s went through the same hoops as him and the story comes across more human and universal because of that.
What holds it back, for me, was the payoff at the end because it was disappointing. Not because it was terrible but because considering the rollercoaster taken to get to this point, the ending sort of fades away without a spark to cap off this end. Yes, it was purposely designed that way for the moral of the story but it feels like all the momentum completely fizzles out with it.
In what would have to be Lin’s most challenging project to date, it marks yet another celebration for the world of Broadway that he’s come to adore as well as the power and pressure of the writing process told through the lenses of a Broadway icon gone way too soon. As Lin is still trying to find his voice as a director, what he lacks in style he makes up for it with heart and verbose energy. Now I definitely gotta see Rent.