Lin-Manuel Miranda’s film Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021) is an adaptation of David Auburn’s adaptation of Jonathan Lason’s stage musical of the same name. Miranda’s debut is about what one would expect from a talent that has been primarily ensconced in live theater.
For starters Lin-Manuel Miranda doesn’t approach film with a sense of the visual in mind, but rather prefers the auditory components of the medium. For instance the film opens and ends with a voice-over in lieu of title cards or actual scenes that directly connect Larson’s real biography to the fictional narrative he created. Throughout the film Miranda opts to “tell” the audience via dialogue what characters are experiencing or thinking rather than showing the audience. This tendency betrays Miranda’s long history as a director on Broadway where communication between performance and spectator is almost exclusively done with sound.
But Tick, Tick… Boom! is a musical so it is the staging of its numbers that either makes or breaks the picture. Luckily in this arena Miranda is more comfortable and more confident. There’s nothing awe inspiring about the song and dance portions of Tick, Tick… Boom!, but it is nevertheless affective. The only real issue on this score is that, while Andrew Garfield has a technically good voice, he isn’t a vocally dynamic performer who is often overshadowed by his supporting cast.
Tick, Tick… Boom! isn’t really about anything other than celebrating Jonathan Larson. This is extremely limiting in terms of dramatic scope. Every event in the narrative is posited as little more than a stepping stone from Tick, Tick… Boom! to Rent. By prioritizing the legacy of the author the world of the film suffers and is experienced as little more than a transparent allegory by the audience. No matter how moving a music cue or even a single scene is it is almost immediately undermined by Miranda’s desire to contextualize the spectacle as an overture to Larson’s own Rent.
None of this is to say that Tick, Tick… Boom! is a bad film. Some good performances and numbers certainly redeem the film of its many shortcomings. Really Tick, Tick… Boom! is a film by theater people about theater people for theater people. So either one fits within that specific demographic or one doesn’t. If you’re not a theater person then the many superficial charms and cameos in Tick, Tick… Boom! are likely to just land flat.