A Great Adaptation: Our Review of ‘tick, tick…BOOM!’

Posted in Netflix, Theatrical, What's Streaming? by - November 12, 2021
A Great Adaptation: Our Review of ‘tick, tick…BOOM!’

More is more is a difficult methodology to argue especially in approaching deconstructed source material, but it surprisingly works in Lin-Manuel Miranda and Steven Levenson’s adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s musical tick, tick… BOOM!, which, for the most part, imagines the composer’s life while switching to the telling of that life in the musical’s one man show format. Miranda throws in simulated archive footage and the one full screen ratio music video. It’s not the first time anyone did a meta musical (e.g. All That Jazz) or a piece of work about someone contemplating their life while approaching a big birthday (Larry Kramer’s F*gg*ts). But as they say, if it works, it works.

I’ve noticed that one of the things that it does is what I like in a few other films recently, and that this film pulls back on a core location and a core relationship. The film zigzags through different parts and times of New York City and its surrounding apartments. But most of it takes place in what looks like “Jon’s” (Andrew Garfield) Lower East Side apartment. There, he’s trying to hold together his relationship with Susan (Alexandra Shipp). He’s trying to put the finishing touches to his eight year passion work, “Superbia”. Meanwhile her dreams are shifting from dancing to teaching at the Berkshires. As an aside, I’m probably giving this film the mark above because of everyone’s hair and costumes.

Anyway, in adapting this material, Miranda balances the film’s few key timelines, makes great use of the musical’s few genres, and shows off how adept he is at handling actors. There’s an air of collaboration here as he depicts his characters reaching emotional heights. Jon seems to reach those heights instantly and displays it more (kudos to Garfield for being able to go to 11 instantaneously). Meanwhile, Shipp gives subtlety to Susan’s emotional arcs and are as equally effective as Garfield’s approach. Another surprising (re?)discovery here is Vanessa Hudgens as Karessa. Karessa is the female vocalist in Jon’s show and one of the singers in the “Superbia” workshop. Hudgens exercises control as Karessa. It’s as if she and Miranda have fleshed out a character without having to give her a back story.

Miranda and his actors breathe life into both the characters and the songs that they sing. The song’s uses of genre makes it just as good as Larson’s more memorable work Rent. Miranda knows which songs to add, to expand on, and which to shorten. The “Brunch” musical number is basically a clown car of every other Tony winning musical giant in the best of ways. It’s a Brechtian number for the MTV (and now TikTok) generation. The original “Come to Your Senses” is a rock ballad and the film modernizes it. Even its moments of CG work to make the whole film magical. And any review of this film should not forget Robin de Jesus, who plays Michael, Jon’s gay best friend (I know, but still), whose rendition of “Real Life” is heartbreakingly perfect.

tick, tick… BOOM! screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox starting today. You can also watch it on Netflix next week.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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