Sunday, December 26, 2021

tick, tick... BOOM!

Movie Name:
tick, tick... BOOM!
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, Vanessa Hudgens, Joshua Henry, Jonathan Marc Sherman, Michaela Jae Rodriguez, Ben Levi Ross, Judith Light, Bradley Whitford, Laura Benanti, Danielle Ferland
Genre: Drama, Musical
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review:
Lin-Manuel Miranda who of course has made a name for himself on Broadway as the creator of "Hamilton", finally makes his feature directorial debut with "tick, tick... BOOM!", a quasi biopic of Jonathan Larson. Larson, himself an American composer who prematurely passed away at the age of 35 in the mid 90s, just as he was about to experience a grandiose success with "Rent", which went on to win numerous accolades and be a tremendous commercial success. The film introduces us to Larson, as he is working in a diner in Soho, NY, to try to make ends meet, all the while he's continuously writing his musical by the name of Superbia. His girlfriend in the meantime gets offered a teaching position in Massachusetts, and invites him to come along. Some of his friends are also moving on, to jobs in advertising and in the corporate world, since they're tired of living the artist life, with no money, no healthcare, and no future prospects. As Jonathan struggles with finding the inspiration to write a central song to his play, particularly as the play is about to be workshopped, he also has to contend with what he wants out of his future, and his self questioning if he'll ever make it or not.
Modern musicals are a difficult genre to tackle. Essentially because if done well, they can truly soar, and showcase the sometimes surreal mindset of certain characters, such as Bjork's Selma in Lars Von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark". However they can also quickly turn sour, and become a kitschy experience, where essentially the film is like a long videoclip without much to offer in terms of character development or context building, which is the case of Tom Hooper's "Cats" or even Steve Antin's "Burlesque". And then of course, there's the antics of Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" which lives in between those two sides of the fence, but that ultimately benefits from the fact that Luhrmann has a very strong point of view, that comes across no matter what. And that is one of the main issues "tick, tick... BOOM!" has: it has a variety of topics that are very important to be aware of, namely the deaths caused by AIDS in the 80s and 90s, the mortgaging of artists' dreams, racism and homophobia, all of which are weighty and have to be handled with some sensitivity. However Lin-Manuel Miranda, for all his ability to illustrate the life of Jonathan Larson, fails to transport the action from whatever doldrum setting the characters find themselves in, to a place where music permeates across everything that it touches. Where Bjork's Selma was influenced by classic films, and imagined herself as part of one, morphing her reality to it, Larson never truly leaves NY, and most of he imagines are meant to illustrate the challenges he's going through to craft his oeuvre. There are some inspired moments throughout the film, but it's overall somewhat tepid, and feels like a rehash of Alan Parker's "Fame" for instance, but without the grittiness or joy that came with it. Ultimately it's a film that lacks that "jump" moment, the moment in which the director asks us to go on this journey with him to his imagination and universe, something Bob Fosse also did in "All That Jazz" for instance. What we're left with, is a nice homage to a talented individual, that is somewhat sentimental, but doesn't necessarily make for an interesting film. The cast is serviceable without being memorable, save for Judith Light, who simply lights any scene she walks into. While it's not a terrible film, it's not a memorable one.