Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut, Tick, Tick… Boom! should cement his name as a director. After his Broadway show Hamilton, Miranda burst onto the screen with a musical ode to his hometown, In the Heights. Set in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, the exuberant film established the multifaceted artist as a writer/actor/musician whose blend of hip hop and Salsa wasn’t just must-see cinema, but must-hear.
Stepping behind the camera for the first time, Miranda is the perfect choice to adapt Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick… Boom! and he combines his experience and skill staging dance, music, action and romance to liberate the story from the stage, adding color without losing autobiographical appeal.
It’s five years before Larson (Andrew Garfield) composes Rent, the show that inspired In the Heights and took Broadway by storm. He’s in the middle of his first musical, Superbia, which he’s been working on for eight years. Also around the corner is his 30th birthday, and he’s beginning to lament not being on the same track as his hero Stephen Sondheim, who wrote West Side Story at age 27.
He wants to be Sondheim 2.0, but he gets sidetracked by all the things going on in his life. The diner where he works is stressing him out, as is the move with his girlfriend, Susan (Alexandra Shipp), pressure from his parents, Nanette and Allan (Sheila Tapia and Joel Gray), and the virus that infects his best friend and confidante, Michael (Robin de Jesus). The movie is essentially a collection of vignettes from Larson’s life; each moment inspiring a song that will show up in his next play.
Written by Steven Levenson (Fosse/Verdon, Dear Evan Hansen), this is is a serious story about art, creativity and sacrifice disguised as a catchy musical. Larson goes through the same motions anyone who dives headfirst into an artform must go through, from the fear of rejection to the want of acceptance, from the joy of positive feedback to the grit of working every day for little money. And yet there’s honor in pursuing art, a concept this movie captures mellifluously.
Everything in the film sings: the music, the characters, the performers, the production design. It’s all in perfect harmony. There are a few too many reaction shots (Sondheim’s reaction to Superbia borders on parody), but the movie checks off every box on the musical checklist.
The songs? Great, of course. The story? Also great. The performances? Look at the cast! Everyone on screen is lovely, especially the earnest, dedicated Garfield, in a blissfully confident turn. Tick, Tick…Boom! is so perfectly executed that it’s impossible not to like. It feels like the film Miranda was born to make, and as Larson and Sondheim did before him, he’s created something that will outlive us all.