This Netflix musical has a stunning lead performance and a surprisingly solid vision behind the camera that enliven the narrative and carries the movie through some slow patches.
In 1990, Jonathan Larson was a waiter at a diner and an aspiring composer of Broadway musicals. He was years away from his musical smash Rent and theater immortality. He wrote a little show called Tick, Tick… Boom! about life as a struggling artist. Larson called it a “rock monologue” it was a new style of theater for the new age. After his tragic death, Larson’s friend reached out to David Auburn, a Pulitzer winning playwright in his own right, to rework Tick, Tick…Boom! as a new show including Larson’s life and journey. This new show captured the imagination of a young musical theater student named Lin Manuel Miranda who would go on to his own form of musical theater legacy in the form of Hamilton. Miranda produced and directed this movie adaptation of Larson’s work.
The history is interesting to me and enriches the viewing experience. The movie is about the artistic process and how ideas form into plays and musicals which capture the imagination. The movie features the real life relationship between Stephen Sondheim and Jonathan Larson, and the movie was made by a director who was inspired by the real life Larson’s work.
The backstory of the show also informs how well Miranda handles the material. It’s clearly made by someone who’s been working on and thinking about this show for years. It has a strong vision and a clear voice behind the camera that elevates the material and enhances every frame. It is an adaptation that succeeds at fully translating the stage show to the screen. The two mediums operate in very different veins and this movie understands that better than most.
It’s a strong adaptation that features an incredible lead performance from Andrew Garfield. He gives a fully committed performance doing his own singing and dancing. He seems to disappear into Larson leaving all traces of his past roles and Spider-man fame behind. His charisma and charm carries this movie. He’s supported by a wonderful cast of Broadway and musical theater alums that bring their a-game.
The one problem I have with the movie is the pacing in the middle section. It’s a problem on a bone deep level. The core of the script is the problem, and the film covers for it but can’t overcome it. The story follows Jonathan Larson as he prepares to show his latest musical work. He feels the show is missing a big finish song to cap off the piece, but he’s experiencing writers block and can’t come up with a song that will work. This brings the narrative moments screeching to a halt as our protagonist is hindered. He can’t move forward and neither can the narrative momentum. We’re all just stuck waiting for him to write something. My attention waned in the middle because of this. Once we got past this hurdle I was treated to a gorgeous conclusion, but that second was rough.
It has wonderful musical numbers. It is full of great performances. It has solid direction. I really enjoyed the movie, but it’s not an A+ for me. It is absolutely my cup of tea, and I think if you have any interest in theater or the artistic process you will enjoy it too. A-