andrew garfield playing the piano

tick, tick... BOOM!

When you hear the name Jonathan Larson, a number probably starts echoing in your mind: five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred, the number of minutes in a year. That number doesn’t enter into tick, tick… BOOM!, but there are plenty of other numbers and references to time throughout the story. What we do with the time we are given is one of Tick Tick… Boom! creator Jonathan Larson’s chief concerns. He is first concerned about turning thirty without having accomplished anything of note. Later, he is confronted with mortality as he loses one friend after another to AIDS. And, as we watch Larson wrestle with how to spend his life, we know that he will die a half decade later just before the premiere of his greatest success, Rent.

tick, tick… BOOM! isn’t Rent, but the seeds are there. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut begins as a recording of the stage musical and intercuts it with scenes showing what Larson and the other performers are talking and singing about. Some of those scenes are presented as straight drama. Others are more fantastic, taking advantage of the open canvas of a movie to realize Larson’s songs  in creative ways. With its constant shifts between the staged, realistic, and fantastic portions, tick, tick… BOOM! has manic energy, which is appropriate as a tribute to the restless Larson. Give it about twenty minutes, and you’ll either acclimate to its rhythms, or it’s probably not for you.

Manuel played the lead character in a short run of the show in 2014, before his breakout success with Hamilton. It is easy to see why the show appeals to him. tick, tick… BOOM! is the story of a genius with a strong sense of his own mortality who has to learn to appreciate the love and support of his friends and family over his own ambition. It is also both groundbreaking musically as well as deferent to its influences. (This is a tiny thing, but both Hamilton and Miranda’s tick, tick… BOOM! have an affinity for Godspell.) It’s Hamilton minus the Tricorne hats and broad appeal.

And let’s be honest – we’re all just waiting for a movie version of Hamilton, and tick, tick… BOOM! has the air of a trial run for Lin-Manuel as a movie director in the same way that tick, tick… BOOM! feels like a trial run for Rent. I don’t envy Miranda. When it comes to motivating new, creative artistic work, the only thing worse than failure is success. The market doesn’t want you to do something new. It wants you to keep repeating the proven success. I admire him for taking his time getting back to the thing that will undoubtedly be the first line of his obituary. I hope when he gets there, he arrives not begrudgingly, but with fresh ideas, if the marketplace will let him exercise them.

Success that must be side-stepped to pursue new creative endeavors must be a nice problem to have. Jonathan Larson never had that problem. Most artists find themselves in Larson’s shoes, not Miranda’s, and that’s where tick, tick… BOOM!’s lasting appeal lies. Artists like to tell stories about other artists. You watch movies and musicals like this, and you think wow, how could these people feel so alone? They are surrounded by people just like them struggling to make it in their disciplines. That’s what Larson comes to see and the perspective that he gives us in the end. There is something inherently, necessarily myopic about the creative process where an artist has to focus on their unique work to such a degree that it’s easy to lose sight of the web of loving relationships that surround and support them. That’s the real testament of tick, tick… BOOM! To quote the artist Jonathan Larson most reveres and whose name he dares not speak: Still, you’re not alone. No one is alone. Truly. No one is alone.

When you hear the name Jonathan Larson, a number probably starts echoing in your mind: five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred, the number of minutes in a year. That number doesn’t enter into tick, tick… BOOM!, but there are plenty of other numbers and references to time throughout the story. What we do with the time we are given is one of Tick Tick… Boom! creator Jonathan Larson’s chief concerns. He is first concerned about turning thirty without having accomplished anything of note. Later, he is confronted with mortality as he loses one friend after another to AIDS. And, as we watch Larson wrestle with how to spend his life, we know that he will die a half decade later just before the premiere of his greatest success, Rent.

tick, tick… BOOM! isn’t Rent, but the seeds are there. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut begins as a recording of the stage musical and intercuts it with scenes showing what Larson and the other performers are talking and singing about. Some of those scenes are presented as straight drama. Others are more fantastic, taking advantage of the open canvas of a movie to realize Larson’s songs  in creative ways. With its constant shifts between the staged, realistic, and fantastic portions, tick, tick… BOOM! has manic energy, which is appropriate as a tribute to the restless Larson. Give it about twenty minutes, and you’ll either acclimate to its rhythms, or it’s probably not for you.

Manuel played the lead character in a short run of the show in 2014, before his breakout success with Hamilton. It is easy to see why the show appeals to him. tick, tick… BOOM! is the story of a genius with a strong sense of his own mortality who has to learn to appreciate the love and support of his friends and family over his own ambition. It is also both groundbreaking musically as well as deferent to its influences. (This is a tiny thing, but both Hamilton and Miranda’s tick, tick… BOOM! have an affinity for Godspell.) It’s Hamilton minus the Tricorne hats and broad appeal.

And let’s be honest – we’re all just waiting for a movie version of Hamilton, and tick, tick… BOOM! has the air of a trial run for Lin-Manuel as a movie director in the same way that tick, tick… BOOM! feels like a trial run for Rent. I don’t envy Miranda. When it comes to motivating new, creative artistic work, the only thing worse than failure is success. The market doesn’t want you to do something new. It wants you to keep repeating the proven success. I admire him for taking his time getting back to the thing that will undoubtedly be the first line of his obituary. I hope when he gets there, he arrives not begrudgingly, but with fresh ideas, if the marketplace will let him exercise them.

Success that must be side-stepped to pursue new creative endeavors must be a nice problem to have. Jonathan Larson never had that problem. Most artists find themselves in Larson’s shoes, not Miranda’s, and that’s where tick, tick… BOOM!’s lasting appeal lies. Artists like to tell stories about other artists. You watch movies and musicals like this, and you think wow, how could these people feel so alone? They are surrounded by people just like them struggling to make it in their disciplines. That’s what Larson comes to see and the perspective that he gives us in the end. There is something inherently, necessarily myopic about the creative process where an artist has to focus on their unique work to such a degree that it’s easy to lose sight of the web of loving relationships that surround and support them. That’s the real testament of tick, tick… BOOM! To quote the artist Jonathan Larson most reveres and whose name he dares not speak: Still, you’re not alone. No one is alone. Truly. No one is alone.

Portrait of Fuller Seminary alum Elijah Davidson

Elijah Davidson is Co-Director of Brehm Film and Senior Film Critic. Find more of his work at elijahdavidson.com.

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