The spotlight belongs to Andrew Garfield and he tears up the stage in “Tick, Tick…BOOM!,” director Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s big screen adaptation of the autobiographical off-Broadway musical by RENT composer Jonathan Larson. This is a film that feels as if it’s made by theater nerds for theater nerds, because it’s exactly that.
It’s 1990 in the Big Apple. Jon (Garfield) is a young theater composer who waits tables at a busy New York City diner while he waits for his big break. Convinced that he’s writing the next great American musical, Jon decides to write what he knows, focusing own his own friends in the artistic community who are suffering from the AIDS epidemic. A passionate writer and musician, Jon is preparing for a hugely important public workshop of his latest project. But demands on his time from his buddy Michael (Robin de Jesus) and girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) are closing in on all sides.
There isn’t a lot of story here, but the catchy songs help carry the narrative. The opening number ear worm “30/90” is contagious in its melody and message, and it starts things off with a, well, bang. Garfield turns in one of the best lead performances of the year as Jon, nailing the true essence of what being a creative type is all about. From the frenetic bursts of enthusiasm to the obsessive pursuit of perfection, Garfield hits all the right notes. He’s a good singer, too.
In his directorial debut, Miranda proves he is even more multi-talented than we already knew him to be. He shows off a slick, polished vision that’s enviable. You can tell this is a film directed by a person who loves musical theater, because his camera shows exactly what the audience wants to see, when they want to see it.
While this will speak deeply to creatives and fans of Broadway (keep your eyes peeled for a number that features multiple cameos), “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” has an appeal that’s universal. It’s a fitting tribute to Larson, a man revered by many in the musical theater community as a genius who died far too young, and a time capsule that captures what being a member of Generation X was all about.