tick, tick...BOOM!

tick, tick...BOOM! ★★½

Lots of mixed feelings on this one. Generally, I found the first hour of set-up and Jonathan Larson agonizing over writing one song to be a slog to get through, and I had to push myself to keep watching a couple times over. The ever-present framing/narrational device of Larson performing the play “tick… tick… BOOM!” for a live audience felt like a weight shackled to the film’s leg— I very often struggled to fully invest in the film’s story, especially when in combination with LMM’s altogether hyperactive direction, which consistently rushed past the more palpable, complex emotional beats.

That’s not my typical tempo for a film anyhow — restless pacing requires an incredibly precise touch — and felt particularly awkwardly applied to a story that’s really quite a small-scale character piece; all this film really covers are the events surrounding a workshop Larson presents for a musical that went nowhere. It’s go-go-go for 115 minutes straight, and then the film just kinda ends, albeit with a sweeping musical flourish.

And the thing is, the piece itself could be quite interesting— Larson’s score is lovely, and the film flirts with the more flawed sides of his character, and the universal questions which gnawed at his brain. I just have to wonder if LMM was the person to bring this all to life— he’s an immediately obvious directorial pick, as a musical theatre writer hailed as a genius while still relatively young, who’s similarly preoccupied with the clock ticking away at his own mortality.

I have to wonder, though, if LMM was simply too close to the material— he has too much reverence for Larson (and perhaps sees too much of himself in his story) to shine *too* complicated a light on him, preferring to spin the celebratory narrative of how Larson changed the world of musical theatre forever. The ideas that fascinate Larson (is he creating art out of love or hate? how can he spend the time he has in this life?) are ideas LMM has already explored in his other works, and thus he doesn’t use them in any meaningful way here; they’re just hollow words stated in song lyrics and written on notecards. It’s not a film that has much of anything to SAY, and it moves too fast to allow Larson’s life and world to BREATHE.

Furthermore, LMM is evidently inexperienced as a film director. I don’t know that I can say he speaks the language of film, and much of his work here feels cloyingly self-conscious (in one dramatically pivotal moment, Lin decides to give himself, other OG Hamilton cast members, and other Broadway stars smug, distracting cameos). Even his work with the actors feels clunky, as many scenes are played so broadly they remind of scenes you’d see in a community college theatre class.

THAT BEING SAID: Andrew Garfield is sublime here. If there’s anyone consistently allowing the film to be watchable at any turn, anyone whose work makes the film even worth watching, it’s Garfield, who is asked to stretch himself every which way as a performer, and never strains once. It’s a charismatic, infectiously high-energy, brutally emotional, breathless live-wire high-wire balancing act of a turn, which through everything manages to capture the spirit of Jonathan Larson *and* create a recognizable human being. He homeruns the big stuff and is such an intelligent performer he’s able to find small, revealing moments throughout, find some nuance in a film that so often feels so surface-level. It’s an incredible display of Garfield’s ample talents, and makes the work of our supposed Oscar frontrunner look like child’s play.

And so I finally found myself able to settle into and even enjoy the film’s rhythm in those final 50 minutes or so, which give Garfield a whole lot more juicy stuff to sink his teeth into, and feature the more stirring, memorable songs and emotional pay-offs. Robin de Jesus gets to shine, Alice Brooks’ photography (much richer and more appealing here than in ITH) gets a spotlight, Alexandra Shipp gets to showcase her magnificent voice… I’m a recovering theatre kid, what can I say. The film began to work for me, just before it ended and ultimately left me feeling empty.

So idk. Kinda just purged my thoughts here. Needed more Mj Rodriguez.

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