'Tick, Tick... BOOM!' review: A beautiful ode to the grand life of broadway star Jonathan Larson 

Official poster for Netflix's tick, tick... BOOM! (Image via IMDb)
Official poster for Netflix's tick, tick... BOOM! (Image via IMDb)

Tick, Tick... BOOM! premiered November 19 on Netflix and the biographical musical drama successfully captures every aspect of the music as well as the life of Jonathan Larson.

Directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, tick, tick... BOOM! follows the legendary Broadway star Jonathan Larson as he contemplates his career choice right before his 30th birthday. The film walks viewers through the events that took place before he turned 30 and how he became the man that he is today.

tick, tick... BOOM! stars Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Joshua Henry, Judith Light, Vanessa Hudgens, Bradley Whitford, and Joanna P. Adler, along with a cameo appearance by Lin-Manuel Miranda himself.

'tick, tick... BOOM!': Summary and Review



tick, tick... BOOM! starts off with a little background on Jonathan Larson and his brilliant works. It is set in 1990 and Jonathan is about to turn 30. These numbers hang over him and haunt him, starting the film with the introductory song 30/90, performed by Jonathan for an unseen audience.

What is Jonathan performing? tick, tick... BOOM! at the New York Theater Workshop along with his friends. He then narrates a story about events just before he turned 30. The song talks about his panic of turning 30 and this constant ticking sound, a probable countdown, that he hears in his head all the time.

Jonathan might be someone who lives on the edge but he still has bills to pay. He juggles his life between being a waiter at Moondance Diner and prepping up for his workshop for his project prior to tick, tick... BOOM! and Rent, SUPERBIA, a musical he has been working on for eight long years. He attends his girlfriend Susan’s event and hosts a party for his friends afterward.

At the party, Susan reveals about a teaching job she applied for in the Berkshires, asking him to come along. One thing to know about Jonathan is that he is not that good at decision making a.k.a. the song Johnny Can't Decide.

tick, tick... BOOM! then moves to Ira Weitzman giving Jonathan an assignment to write a new song for the second act in SUPERBIA and for the first time, it seems like the biggest challenge for Jonathan.

Music comes naturally to him, he can write a song about absolutely anything in less than a day but this time it was different, call it a brutal creative block. He decides to visit his ex-roommate and childhood friend Michael at his new Upper East Side apartment. Michael was an aspiring actor who left his passion behind and decided to work in advertising. The two then celebrate his success with another song, No More.

The next day at the diner, Jonathan finds out that his friend Freddy, an HIV-positive patient, has been hospitalized which adds to his anxieties as he has lost many of his friends to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He then makes his way down to the Playwright Horizons to start off his rehearsals for SUPERBIA, and this focus on his career over relationships, along with his indecisiveness, leads to Susan breaking up with him.

Now, Jonathan needs money to hire a full band for his workshop but he's broke and the only way to make money instantly is to attend the focus group Michael has been asking him to join. Things surprisingly turn out well for him at the focus group till he realizes how much he would hate this life, so he deliberately makes a fool out of himself which leads to a heated argument between him and Michael.

Still from Netflix's tick, tick... BOOM! - Jonathan performing Sunday (Image via IMDb)
Still from Netflix's tick, tick... BOOM! - Jonathan performing Sunday (Image via IMDb)

Later that night, he finally receives a call from his agent Rosa who shares about the people she has invited for his presentation of SUPERBIA. Due to unpaid rent, Jonathan faces a power cut at his apartment and then turns to swimming to cool off where he gets inspired for the new song.

It's the day of the presentation and his friends, family and industry professionals including his idol Stephen Sondheim are here. Karessa gives an electrifying performance with Jonathan's new song Come to Your Senses towards the end of the presentation, to which he receives several praises but no offers to produce the musical.

This reality check in tick, tick... BOOM! leads Jonathan back to his best friend Michael, where he asks for a corporate job as he is running out of time. He then accuses Michael for not understanding his situation only for Michael to reveal that he is HIV-positive and has been trying to tell Jonathan about the same for days.

Jonathan finally grasps onto his self-centered behavior and reflects on how it cost him his relationship and friendship. He then wanders through New York and finds himself at the Delacorte Theater where he sings (Why) about his friendship with Michael and whether the sacrifices are even worth it.

It's the morning of Jonathan’s 30th birthday in tick, tick... BOOM! and he receives a phone call from Stephen himself who praises his musical SUPERBIA, also wishing to sit down with him to talk about it, lifting Jonathan’s spirits. He then holds his birthday party at the Moondance Diner joined by his friends. Susan stops by to gift him a notebook of blank sheet music paper and encourages him to write "the next thing".

The movie moves towards the end with Susan narrating about "the next thing" being tick, tick... BOOM! itself before he worked on Rent. She then reveals the reason behind Jonathan’s death after he turned 35 and how he never got to experience the success of his work that still lives on.

Jonathan is then seen performing his final song from tick, tick... BOOM! (Louder than Words) where he observes each of his friends and family in the audience with Susan watching from the back. The credits roll in and show the actual footage of Jonathan Larson performing tick, tick… BOOM!


tick, tick... BOOM! is a beautiful portrayal of Jonathan Larson's life as well as his musical of the same name. Andrew Garfield, who portrays the role of Jonathan, has captured the very essence of him, from his hair to the way he spoke all the way to his ability to shut off and become borderline obsessive with his work.

The movie is bound to make viewers feel every emotion Jonathan felt, from his disconnect to his little achievements along the way.

On Jonathan's 30th birthday, when he receives the call, viewers will feel the joy along with him as if it's a personal achievement and they will feel the sadness caving in as he looks over to the audience while performing his final song from tick, tick... BOOM!. That's the power Andrew held in his hands, his brilliant performance was able to make the viewers feel as if they were watching Jonathan perform it himself.

The music from the original tick, tick... BOOM! has been well performed by everyone, especially Vanessa Hudgens and Andrew himself. Director Lin-Manuel Miranda was able to showcase how every word and line Jonathan drew inspiration from - "Fear or Love?" or "When the Boss is Wrong as Rain" - became the final song Louder than Words. What's very impressive about Jonathan Larson was his ability to create songs from basic day-to-day errands, like Sunday and how it just talks about having brunch in a diner on a Sunday.

Miranda himself played the role of Larson in a 2014 off-Broadway revival of tick, tick... BOOM! and here he was successfully able to share the man's journey from a defeated artist to a Broadway star. It isn't just a mere adaptation but an excellent portrayal of Jonathan's life and his work.

The film investigates the superiority complex of artists and the premise of creating art which is considered to be ahead of its time. tick, tick... BOOM! also has a superb sequence drawing the parallels between the mere existence of dreamers and the opulent lifestyle of a robot that Jonathan had become.

Although tick, tick... BOOM! is also about the ultimate tragedy of Jonathan passing away on the night before the premiere of what would become his most famous piece of work till now (Rent) but Miranda did not wish to capture his death instead the grand life he lead and how his determination made him who he was. The film asks if it's important to stop once in a while, but viewers know well enough that was never the case with Jonathan.

tick, tick... BOOM! is now available to stream on Netflix.

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Edited by R. Elahi