Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

The Love-letter of Miranda

In addition to being a love letter to Broadway, Tick, Tick… Boom! marks the directorial debut of composer, singer, and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda. The film delves into the life story of Jonathan Larson, symbolizing the pursuit of passion and dreams, even when the realization of those dreams may seem elusive, as time inexorably marches on.

On another note, it’s fitting to assert that Miranda crafted the film as a love letter to the creators of musical theater, a group often referred to as an endangered species in his narrative. Through his storytelling, he “introduces” the audience to an expression of gratitude and love for the art form and its creators, with a particular focus on Jonathan Larson. Larson was a musical theater visionary who crafted extraordinary works, tragically passing away the night before the debut of his renowned show, Rent. His story is undeniably inspirational.

As such, the film not only centers on Larson’s Rent but also delves deeply into Larson himself, recounting the journey he undertook before summoning the courage to bring Rent to life.

Jonathan Larson

Approaching his thirtieth birthday, Larson (played by Andrew Garfield in his first musical role) began to experience feelings of depression and unrest. The existential crisis had taken hold of him, and Larson felt overwhelmed by a sense of inadequacy. He was toiling away at a diner, feeling as though he had yet to truly become a complete human being. The dreams of his youth remained unfulfilled, and his musical compositions continued to face rejection. What made matters worse was not just the rejection but also the outright neglect of his work.

Determined to leave his mark and make a name for himself, Larson shifted his focus to a rock musical project infused with science fiction elements, which he named Superbia. Larson faced considerable difficulty in a project he believed had the potential to change the world. He found himself unable to write the second act, a crucial component of his musical creation.

As economic pressures mounted, Larson’s social circle began to disperse. He quarreled with his girlfriend, and friends were claimed by the devastating HIV epidemic of the era. All the while, Larson felt the weight of his advancing age, convinced that time was slipping away. It was like a ticking time bomb in Larson’s heart, driving him to complete his work against all odds.

The Sketch

Tick, Tick… Boom! is essentially a cinematic love letter to Broadway, comprising a collection of snapshots from Larson’s daily life. It depicts him shuttling between his workplace and the cluttered workspace in his attic. Occasionally, he takes breaks to spend time with his neglected girlfriend and best friend.

His girlfriend, a dancer seeking opportunities to sustain herself outside the expensive confines of New York, shares his struggles. In contrast, his friend has abandoned acting for a career in advertising and attempts to assist Larson in earning extra income through market research. This friend suggests that Larson might consider channeling his talents in a more commercial direction. Nonetheless, Larson remains resolute in his commitment to completing Superbia, even in the face of positive feedback from theater legends like Stephen Sondheim.

It’s worth noting that Andrew Garfield, despite lacking a background in musical theater, masterfully embodies characters like Jonathan Larson—kind yet resolute and willing to pursue his artistic obsession. Garfield possesses a commendable singing voice for the role, even though Larson himself may not be widely recognized as a singer. Essentially, Garfield brings Larson’s boundless enthusiasm for various forms of culture and art to the forefront. He portrays the character as someone who engages with everything from theater and politics to cinema, hip-hop, and rock.

A significant subplot of the film revolves around Larson’s reactions to Superbia while simultaneously collecting notes on ’90s New York bohemia and the HIV crisis, which ultimately culminates in the creation of Rent.

The Foundation of Theatrical Film

Miranda adapted Larson’s one-person show into his first film, using it as the foundation for his musical drama. The director remained true to something dear to him—namely, the theatrical style. Miranda has succeeded in seamlessly blending the theatrical style with the storytelling style of the film, crafting a compelling narrative.

In the film, the audience witnesses Larson’s live performance in front of an actual audience. He shares songs inspired by his own life, transforming Larson’s story into dramatic scenes presented as flashbacks. Within these scenes, Larson and other characters frequently break into song, complete with sets and choreography that evoke the atmosphere of a live theater production. Miranda’s direction maintains a seamless flow, with his catchy songs being sung with a natural ease.

The lyrics that describe Larson convey his emotions with precision, leaving a lasting impact on the audience. For instance, there is a musical number where Larson finds himself caught in the hustle and bustle of the diner where he works on Sundays. Additionally, there’s a poignant singing scene where he “celebrates” his friend’s new apartment, who has chosen an office job over pursuing an acting career.

The Framed Actors

In my opinion, the film truly shines when it embraces the theatrical setting. Particularly, the moments when Larson and the singer portrayed by Vanessa Hudgens sing about their conflicts over work and the future with Larson’s girlfriend stand out as a highlight. Even the initial introduction and the first song are absolutely fantastic.

The choreography in these scenes is particularly noteworthy. Characters are seated in chairs at the front of the stage, facing the audience. They sing and engage in animated conversation, their smiles widening as the conversation becomes more intense. The choreography gradually quickens, resulting in one of the most dynamic sequences in the entire film.

While the director’s choice to intercut the theater musical scenes with the domestic drama of Larson and his girlfriend at home adds depth to the narrative, it’s undeniable that Miranda’s direction allows the actors in the film to deliver performances that feel authentic and uncontrived, akin to live theater acting.

Andrew Garfield

One thing that stands out in the film is the remarkable focus on Andrew Garfield in his first musical role. Garfield is among the select few actors who consistently manage to surprise audiences with their versatility in portraying diverse roles. His performances in movies like The Social Network, Silence, and Hacksaw Ridge are examples of his skill in emotional drama.

In Silence, he adds a distinct touch to his character. In Tick, Tick… Boom!, a love letter to Broadway, Garfield continues to showcase the same versatility as in his earlier films. He approaches every musical scene with fervor, not just singing and delivering an eccentric performance, but also striking the right dramatic chords.

As Larson, a character engrossed in creating art while facing conflicts with his loved ones, the audience initially perceives him as somewhat selfish. However, Garfield’s acting prowess quickly elicits sympathy from the viewers. His performances make the characters relatable and grounded in reality, enhancing the audience’s connection to the story.

The Guide

Every audience should watch this film, especially as a guide for those entering their thirties. It’s not easy to grasp that life has its limits. Regardless of how much time individuals have or how they choose to spend it, time won’t yield meaningful results unless it’s filled with pursuits that truly resonate with the individual. Jonathan Larson’s life story, portrayed in the film, delves into precisely these themes.

Tick, Tick… Boom! offers numerous aspects that can be appreciated by audiences, with the exception of Larson’s girlfriend. Her character’s success might serve as a testament to the character who inspired Larson. While the love story between Larson and his girlfriend plays a central role, it becomes even more crucial since the audience already knows how the story ends. Larson’s feeling that time is relentlessly catching up to him would lose its appeal if the film didn’t explore the lives and roles of the characters surrounding him.

Characters such as Larson’s girlfriend and his childhood friend do exist, and Miranda highlights their roles throughout the narrative. However, Miranda never delves deeply into the interpersonal conflicts between these characters, except for during the following musical scene. These problems significantly impacted Larson, but the film only presents them as they manifest through new songs.

The Narration of Time

The film’s focus isn’t solely on time chasing Larson. To accentuate the urgency of impending deadlines and his struggle with writer’s block, the film adopts a fast-paced narrative tone. It rarely takes a moment to delve into emotions or contemplate Larson’s character more deeply. It would have been beneficial to include additional scenes, such as Larson’s moments of introspection while swimming and metaphorically diving into his thoughts.

While the film introduces the audience to the characters and their challenges in an engaging manner, it doesn’t always portray these characters as fully developed human beings beyond their surface characteristics. For instance, when Larson’s friend falls ill with HIV, Larson feels sadness, but after turning his emotions into a song, the issue quickly transitions into another subject for him to sing about. Given that the foundation of the story is rooted in the performing arts, the narrative often seems to jump from one issue to the next. However, the film could benefit from slowing down at times, allowing for more depth in the storytelling. Miranda could convey this impression through editing or camera work.

Nevertheless, Tick, Tick… Boom! is a fantastic fusion of musical theater and musical drama. Andrew Garfield’s dazzling acting performance adds a delightful touch to this love letter to art enthusiasts and, notably, to one of its creators, Jonathan Larson. The story is relatable and will likely have the audience singing along from the heart.


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