Monday, January 3, 2022

Tick, Tick... Boom!


1992. Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield), a struggling playwright, performs one of his works at a theater workshop in New York where he begins by describing a ticking sound getting louder and louder in his head as he gets closer and closer to hitting the big 3-0. Working at a diner to make ends meet, he has been juggling his day job and his life’s greatest work, a futuristic theatrical adaptation of Orwell’s 1984 called Superbia, for the last decade or so. His best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús) has already given up on the Bohemian artist’s life in the Big Apple by working at a Marketing firm, while dancer girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) is mulling over the prospect of moving out of the city to pursue a decent paying job. Wading through Broadway’s tough bureaucracy, Larson tries to find the balance between passion and survival as he bears witness to the many social plights of the decade through his writing.

For musical aficionados like us who love Rent but don’t care that much to obsess about the creative process that led to its creation, Tick, Tick... Boom! serves as a vital complementary companion, an autobiographical take on the life of Jonathan Larson crafted as yet another musical for our ears to enjoy. Suddenly, all the storylines begin to make sense and you begin to see where the inspiration for most of them came from. Perhaps that’s why this film adaptation feels so familiar despite being newly released. Like déjà vu, from the beats to the rhythm to the lyrics to the subplots. All of them, familiar territory.

If anything, watching this film will make you want to see Rent again, or at least put the OST on repeat on Spotify which proves to be the more accessible option. As a musical in itself, Tick, Tick... Boom! has several memorable but less-known hits to boast about in its soundtrack such as Therapy and Come to Your Senses. As for cinema being used as the medium, musical numbers like Sunday and Swimming take advantage of what a movie can offer in terms of visuals that theater just couldn’t, while songs such as Johnny Can’t Decide juxtapose voice and piano performances with montages that move to story forward.

As for the veracity of the biographical information presented in the film, there are articles online that discuss just those, but perhaps the important thing here is the distinction between facts and emotions. After all, this is still a movie that needs to have a beginning and an ending while appealing to your feelings as a human being. In this regard, whatever creative license has been taken is understandably done to evoke certain kinds of reactions as well as to resolve various subplots. Overall, it’s not bad for Lin Manuel Miranda’s film directorial debut. But maybe he has Andrew Garfield to thank for that.

Garfield has been making the rounds in the critics’ circles lately for this film and gaining traction thanks to the Spider-Man: No Way Home boost. He and Benedict Cumberbatch, in fact. Calling the shots is probably too early at this point, but it would be great to see him score a nomination at least, given how he really devotes to the character which is in turn based on the real Jonathan Larson. Yes, it’s a bit confusing that way because Tick, Tick... Boom! is also a musical theater piece written by Larson supposedly about himself, which the storyline makes clear yet still left vague to wiggle in some creative liberties.

As human beings we tend to have this fascination with deadlines and legacies, a fixation on time and how it seems to be quickly running out. Perhaps the most important takeaway from this is that not every flower will bloom in spring. Not every masterpiece will be lauded. Not every breakthrough will be enjoyed the same way. When all is said and done, it’s how that process was dealt with that becomes the story. In this case, Larson’s life. He might not be alive today to enjoy that end result he was yearning to achieve, but he lives on through the people his works have inspired. Maybe that’s just what life is all about after all.

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