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Review: Netflix’s ‘tick, tick…BOOM!’ (dir. Lin-Manuel Miranda)

This ticking time bomb of a film is an entirely boundless, chaotic, and emotional love letter to the art of musical theatre. Andrew Garfield delivers a manic performance that is convincing and over-the-top without feeling overdone.

Starring Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Vanessa Hudgens, Joshua Henry, and MJ Rodriguez, Netflix’s tick, tick…BOOM! was directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda in his feature film directorial debut (you might know him by now from his other acclaimed work, Hamilton). Partially an adaptation of the musical tick, tick…BOOM! and partially a biography about its playwright Jonathan Larson (who later created Rent), this film follows a budding theater composer who is wrapping up what he thinks is the greatest musical of all time. Combine the pressure to finish his play with the exterior pressure from his relationships and society, and he’s at a real crossroads.

This ticking time bomb of a film is an entirely boundless, chaotic, and emotional love letter to the art of musical theater. Andrew Garfield delivers a manic performance that is convincing and over-the-top without feeling overdone.

It’s chaotic. It’s high-energy. It’s social commentary. It’s emotional. On paper, that seems like a lot. Because it is. But the way these elevated components work together is the magic of it all.

It all spins around an all too relatable premise — approaching a certain age and feeling like we haven’t accomplished enough as others that age. Offering a look into the less shiny side of show biz, you see that sometimes it’s small apartments and grimy startups where the real work begins.

I was a really big fan of how the styles and genres of music had such variety and never stuck to the same sound the whole way through. Some diehard Broadway critics might call that messy, but I see that as a big part of the appeal.

Andrew Garfield is so good here. He gives a manic performance that I feel only he could successfully pull off without feeling too overdone. The inner dialogue he has and the way that it’s intertwined into the songs made this play out so well. These lyrics act as a narration of his life while simultaneously being actual scenes from the workshops and the play itself. Also, the dude can really sing! Like, he’s not just “good enough” for the musical. He’s actually a good singer. 

Garfield is so convincing in this role that you really get lost in his performance. For a minute there I really thought he was trying to write the music and going through the struggles his character was, and that’s always a good sign of an acting performance.

As if this film wasn’t doing enough to up the chaos, there are also moments where Garfield’s character ends up breaking the fourth wall.

Alexandra Shipp is proving her versatility as an actress, and she brings her all to this performance. She’s dancing, she’s crying, there’s heartbreak, there’s love… her character goes through it all, and she’s giving it her all.

Robin de Jesús starts out like the funny roommate who makes the smart aleck comments, but we come to find that he is so much more layered than that. His performance and his character really surprised me, and I think his character had one of the more interesting storylines of the film.

Vanessa Hudgens feels criminally underutilized. With such a strong musical background, I would think she would have been more prominently featured, but she often feels forgotten, and that’s unfortunate. Her vocals are incredible, and I am just sitting here wondering what happened to her music career? Come on, Vanessa, at least drop us a single or something.

MJ Rodriguez really made a huge name for herself with Pose, so it’s great to see her bringing her sense of charm and quick wit to other projects. Joshua Henry’s voice is something special. I can’t wait to hear him sing more in the future. 

In a movie that feels like its characters are about to run up the walls (oh wait, they do), the plot feels grounded, honest, and relatable. While there’s a very specific narrative being played out here, it’s something that a lot of us can connect with on some level. It could have some real appeal with audiences that don’t even have a super strong connection to musical theater. 

I’m not making a blanket statement here, but some musicals use the music as a crutch for a lackluster plot, and the storyline suffers while the songs are spectacular. This is a rare instance where I felt emotionally invested in the characters, their lives, their hopes, and their dreams, but it also had incredible songs that fit into the context of the film, and I’ll listen to again later on Apple Music. 

I really like how the flashback sequences are woven in because they are just enough to touch on the past without distracting from the present. Visually, the 4:3 aspect ratio and the “vintage film” effect adds a nice touch to the looks of the footage, as well.

This is a sensational story that some people will feel an extremely strong connection to, and it gives us yet another incredible from Andrew Garfield backed by an incredibly talented supporting cast.

tick, tick…BOOM! premieres on Netflix this Friday, November 19.

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