Tick Tick Boom! ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Review by Andrea Carnevali
On the cusp of his 30th birthday, a promising young theatre composer navigates love, friendship and the pressures of life as an artist in New York City. On in cinemas now.
Tick Tick Boom is the latest directorial effort from Manuel Lin-Miranda (the genius behind the Broadway hit and Tony and Pulitzer winner Hamilton).
This time he’s adapting for the screen a semi-autobiographical play by Jonathan Larson, the young man who eventually went on to compose Rent, a game changer in contemporary theatre. The stress on “semi” is crucial here, as a cheeky disclaimer at the front of the film points out… Hence, who knows how much of this is true?
The original source material, more than a classic ‘play’ is a sort of ‘musical monologue’ in which the author, about to turn 30 and on the verge of a mental breakdown, channels his fears and anxieties as he struggles with writer’s block.
He’s unable to come up with new songs for his script. In among all that, he also talks about his relationship with his girlfriend, his adoring and supportive family and his gay roommate and friends, most of whom seemed to be dying from AIDS (This takes place in the 80s at the height of the AIDS crisis, which was particularly prominent among the New York entertainment community).
If anything this film clearly shows us how Lin-Miranda’s great creative skills go well beyond the boundaries of stage and I can only hope one day he’ll find the perfect source material to give us the masterpiece he can clearly produce.
Whether this the right material, I’m not completely sure. He certainly knows it inside out (he played the lead in a New York staging back in 90s), and he’s also able to use any cinematic styles and tools in the book to draw every single drops of pulsating energy out of those rock monologues: clever transitions, snappy editing and ever changing visual styles (square-boxed Home-videos, mixed with wider cinematic aspect ratio).
He also understands his characters very well and he’s able to convey them to his actors.
Andrew Garfield, who apparently studied musical performance in preparation for this role, brings huge energy and enthusiasm to the lead role. He feels completely at ease with his character, singing and dancing as if it was a second nature to him, using his innate charm to make Jonathan likeable even when he is way too self-centred and obnoxious. The rest of the cast (friends and girlfriend) are all very solid too, both when they act and sing.
And yet despite all this talent, both in front and behind the camera, the film left me a bit cold throughout and I found myself watching it in quite a detached way (very unlike me), almost from far away, despite seeing this on a rather large screen in a real movie theatre, instead of being swept away by both the music and the overall brio.
This may be a limit set by the actual source material itself, which is probably why it took 30 years to be adapted and which I think somehow prevented the film to go “all out”, the way musicals can (and ought to) do.
I didn’t feel most emotional beats hit me the way they should have, maybe because they were not quite handled with enough gravitas and momentum, but also because they felt a bit rushed on a scripting level (case in point a crucial moment was dismissed rather quickly in a cold voiceover rather than dramatised with music).
And in the same way, the final triumphal moments in the film (no spoiler here, but we all know where the story ends) didn’t have me cheering at the screen as I am known to do (I’m a typical Italian, when I watch movies you can usually tell from miles away whether I am liking something or not).
Now, I know I’m sounding like a petulant moaner here, but I really wanted this to sweep me away both emotionally and intellectually. I love the people involved with this and while I see a lot of good things in the film, I can’t help feeling a little bit let down by it.
Still, I’m happy I saw it, so you might want to give it a chance and let me know if I was just on the wrong mood for it, or I am probably right.
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.
Tick Tick Boom is out in (few) selected cinemas and will be on Netflix from Friday 19 November.
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