The underdog reaching for the stars through adversity and overwhelming obstacles is no stranger to Hollywood, but it’s much more intriguing when it’s based on a true story. “Tick, Tick...Boom!,” the musical drama streaming exclusively on Netflix, tells the story of Jonathan Larson, the young playwright who died the night before his brilliant musical “Rent” played on Broadway in 1996.
Larson (Andrew Garfield) is, above all else, resilient. He tells anyone that will listen to him that he’s the future of musical theater. He’s so confident in his future success that he’s OK with waiting tables at a diner until he lands his big break.
Despite his confidence, his biggest fear is time. Larson is 29 years old, and what keeps him up at night is the worry that he won’t have accomplished anything in his life by the time he reaches 30.
Fortunately, he has a great support system that won’t let him give up on his dreams. His childhood best friend, Michael (Robin de Jesus), often gets frustrated with Larson’s chaotic lifestyle, but knows the gift his talented friend has. Susan (Alexandra Shipp) is Jonathan’s girlfriend and is so supportive of Larson’s dream, she mostly understands playing second fiddle to Larson’s “Superbia,” the musical he’s been writing for several years.
After hearing “no” more than any one person can count, his big break finally comes when his agent contacts him for an upcoming workshop for “Superbia.” While Larson is ecstatic, he’s also more than a little anxious. He was informed that “Superbia” needs a new song in the second act, and he has a week to write it before the workshop.
Knowing this song could be the make-or-break for “Superbia” gaining notice from industry professionals, Larson has little time to eat, sleep or have anything to do with something that isn’t his Macintosh computer and piano. In the next week, with his 30th birthday looming, Larson will contemplate if he made the wrong career choice, and if the stress and fixation on a musical is worth the cost of his family and friends.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, no stranger to musicals (“Hamilton” and “In The Heights”), is a fitting director for a story he’s likely quite familiar with himself. The most enticing part of “Tick, Tick...Boom!” is watching Larson work tirelessly to make his dreams come true, while at the same time, be preoccupied with that dream to the point of self-destruction.
It’s also not the easiest story to portray, as Larson performs his experiences throughout the film, mid-scene, on stage. It can all get a bit confusing at times, but the film hits the ground running in the second half once the stakes are established and deploys a sense of urgency.
There’s also Andrew Garfield that keeps us hooked from the very beginning. Clearly Garfield understood, and perhaps related to, Larson’s desperation and determination to be great. The humor, pain and heart Garfield displays through a roller coaster of highs and lows is why the film reaches its pinnacle success.
Unlike Miranda and Garfield, Larson never got the chance to reap the benefits of the sacrifices he made to become one of the legends of musical theater. I suppose that’s what makes “Tick, Tick...Boom!” so powerful.
You can achieve anything you desire in life through hard work and dedication. Just be careful that your dreams don’t supersede your life, for a tomorrow that is never promised.
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