Andrew Garfield and His Oscar-Worthy Performance in Tick,Tick...Boom!

Culture

THUMBNAIL PHOTO COURTESY NETFLIX

Welcome to another installment of the movie musical hell, except that we have chosen to suffer this time. The good kind of emotional hell, the Les Misérables, and the West Side Story-kind, where tears are self-induced, and even the most formidable resolve gets dissolved by a well-executed vision.

Ladies and gentlemen, after years of Hollywood throwing crap at the wall, trying to see what sticks, they finally decided to surrender a movie musical script into the hands of someone who understands the musical theater language and the nuance of translating it onto the silver screen. And would you look at that.

A modern classic.

Boho Days

Tick, Tick … Boom! Originated as a rock monologue performed by the late composer Jonathan Larson accompanied by his band, narrating the everyday perils of a struggling artist receiving rejection letters left and right, watching his friends get struck down by the HIV pandemic, and fighting endlessly with his girlfriend. As Jonathan's frustration with his career grew, the monologue originally called "Boho days" was exponentially rising in the number of fictional components Jonathan injected it with, as well as the gusto with which he performed it.

The movie adaptation is staged as one of Jonathan's performances. We follow the real-life events in the movie, narrated and sung by him and the rest of the cast comprised of Lin-Manuel Miranda's friends. So it's a musical about a musical adapted as a movie musical.

And it somehow, miraculously, makes sense.

30/90

If you ever sniffed around the taste corners of theater kids, theater fans, and the Broadway community in general, you might have smelled and been repelled by the odor of pettiness. It's a miracle when we agree on something. And we all agree that this is a fantastic film.

From the 90s filters, stylization, stretched out, fleecy sweaters to music overlapping with the narrative in a satisfying, engaging manner, to a spot-on depiction of the passion, ebullience, and the restless mind of a writer hearing the clock ticking in his head as his 30th birthday approaches. Is this film purely for the artists and the theater community?

No, but artists will probably resonate with it the most. I know I did. The horrors of an approaching deadline for writing a crucial piece of your final creation and your typically wild, creative mind just now deciding to peace out and unsubscribe from the project. But there is a far more critical message in Tick, Tick … Boom! than career choices and artistic scene in New York.

A theme Miranda explored in detail once before, which is probably one of the reasons he felt compelled to take on directing it: Time.

What we do with our time while we're alive, and what our legacy will be once we're gone. Can you make a conscious decision of dedicating your life to art, knowing people might never see your work, and then leave this world satisfied you did the right thing?

Sunday

I have been aware of the fact that Andrew Garfield wasn't just the guy who once let Gwen Stacy fall off the clock tower. I adored his work in Hacksaw Ridge and Silence. I was blown away by Angels in America, a role he received the Tony award for.

But I had no idea he was this good. Heart-wrenchingly good. The mannerisms of Jonathan Larson, the anguish of portraying an artist on the brink of graduate descending into madness – Andrew is shaping up to be the next Leo. A beast of an actor inexplicably ignored by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.

The rest of the cast is firing on all cylinders, keeping up with Andrew's mind-blowing acting. They are well-versed in the material, classically trained in musical theater, and they're in one form or another, Lin-Manuel Miranda's friends. An occurrence getting progressively more hilarious every time it happens. And it happens again and again. It doesn't matter what project he embarks on; it is guaranteed you will see if not a full-blown or an expanded role, then at least a fun cameo from his Freestyle Love Supreme, In the Heights, and Hamilton family.

Yeah, I'm envious. I wish I had a friend who would put me in his big-budget, glamorous Netflix features.

If you're a theater nerd, then the "Sunday Brunch" sequence at the Moondance Diner will do for you what Avengers: Endgame did for Marvel fans.

A plethora of legends paying homage to their celebrated roles, anywhere from the Schuyler Sisters doing the joined-hands poster pose, wearing their respective signature pink and blue colors, to Bernadette Peters dressed as Dot from Sondheim's classic "Sunday at the Park with George." The late titan of musical theater's voice makes a brief appearance too. Even Lin is there, working as a cook at the Moondance Diner.

Ha-ha, a Midtown diner filled with Puerto-Rican servers yelling orders in Spanish.

(Sigh, it's funny 'cause it's true.)

The flex with this one was real. It wasn't just stringing the bow; the bowstring broke utterly. This is how you demonstrate the power of your connections, kids. And I am here for it.

Therapy

The original rock one-man show Jonathan Larson used to perform was re-worked as a three-person stage musical off-Broadway and in independent theater communities. The version I was most familiar with was the production of New York City Center from 2014 with Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jonathan Larson, Leslie Odom Jr. as Jonathan's best friend Michael, and Karen Olivo as Susan, Jonathan's girlfriend (talk about crossovers). As per Jonathan's writing, "Therapy" is a scene metaphorically representing romantic relationships and literal recollection of Jonathan's fights with Susan.

While in the play, it's a comedic musical sequence of earth-shattering back and forth with no resolution. The film, however, explores the real tragedy of loving someone who's wrong for you in every way imaginable. Both may be artists, but while Susan is level-headed and organized, Jonathan is a scatterbrained mess.

And the reason "Therapy" in Tick, Tick… Boom! Deserves its own paragraph is because of the woman named Vanessa Hudgens who sings the song on stage with Andrew as the footage of Jonathan and Susan's (played by Alexandra Shipp) devastating break-up alternates with it. Vanessa is an absolute scene-stealer. Choreographed down to the eyebrows and frown lines, she brings incredible charisma and stage presence to "Therapy." Even though she is barely in the movie, I felt myself watching her more than anyone else when she was on camera. A powerhouse of a vocalist, an incredible actress, and I am just happy to see her in something where she isn't triplicated.

Louder Than Words

Why talk about Tick, Tick… Boom! A month after its release? Well, two reasons. One, poor Andrew Garfield can't escape the questions about his yes-no-maybe-so appearance in No Way Home as Peter Parker. Don't get me wrong, I was sixteen when Andrew played Spider-Man, and the nostalgia would hit me like a train, but it's a gimmick compared to the performance he gave in Tick, Tick… Boom! Which should be the primary conversation on everyone's mind right now. And second, even a month after its release, and probably much longer than that, I will be thinking about Jonathan Larson's tragedy.

RENT, while his most celebrated musical, has always carried a scent of unfinished business to me, which is understandable, considering he never got to sit down and watch his magnum opus performed on stage, take notes, re-work, rewrite, as every composer does when their musical is in previews. Rewriting his legacy, however unfinished, would seem disrespectful and uncalled-for. I understand that. But RENT is not the legacy of his ahead of time genius. The passion and driving engine behind dedicating his short life to art is. That's the heart of Tick, Tick… Boom!.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

Zara Miller
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Zara Miller is a published author, writer and blogger. She is a graduate of Middlesex University London where she studied International Relations. Her debut YA novel I am Cecilia attracted the eye of prominent speaking conferences such as Career Grad Festival and Association of Writers and Writing Programs. She writes for The Teen Magazine where she handles culture and student sections and works for her publishing house as an author coach, guiding new talent towards publishing successfully.