Tick Tick Boom review: An ode to Jonathan Larson and the aspiring artists he leaves behind


Andrew Garfield stars as composer Jonathan Larson in Tick Tick Boom. The 2021 film tells the story of the aspiring composer in New York City racing to achieve his dreams as he approaches 30 in 1990. Image courtesy of Collider.

Haley Maser, Editor-in-Chief

Before Rent encapsulated audiences and changed the future of Broadway, Tick Tick Boom, an autobiographical rock monologue turned off-broadway musical, told the story of its creator Jonathan Larson. With Lin-Manuel Miranda behind the camera, the unique film adaptation pays homage to the late composer and panders to the musical theater community. Paired with Andrew Garfield’s incredible performance, this film will leave audiences with a newfound appreciation for Larson and the stories he leaves behind.


Netflix’s Tick Tick Boom follows composer Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) approaching his 30th birthday and racing against the clock to pitch his masterpiece Superbia, a sci-fi musical that preluded Rent and titular show. As girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) and best friend Michael (Robin de Jesus) move on to more realistic careers, Larson grapples with which path to choose. The urgent ticking that haunts Larson throughout the movie eerily foresees his real future, with the composer passing from an aortic aneurysm at 35, the night before Rent’s first off-broadway preview. Consequently, what we do with the time we are given is a theme that dominates the film.


First-time director Lin-Manuel Miranda brings a personal touch to the movie, having been inspired by Larson since he saw Rent at just 17 years old. Instead of creating a direct adaptation of the source material, Miranda and screenwriter Steven Levenson blended the general plot of the musical with aspects of the composer’s life in 1990s New York City. Jonathan Larson’s connection to the Hamilton and In the Heights creator is further evident in the details of the film. Shelves bending under the weight of sheet music in a near-exact replica of Larson’s apartment or the use of real locations from his life are just a few aspects that paint a lovingly honest picture of his life.  


The shining star of the film and what truly brings Jonathan Larson to life is Andrew Garfield. The Tony award-winning actor has impressed audiences numerous times before, but the adoption of Larson’s mannerisms and his ability to convey his larger-than-life personality are standouts of Tick Tick Boom. The enthusiasm Garfield brings to the role highlights Larson’s love of music and gives motivation to why he would risk so much to become an artist. Additionally, the sense of urgency Garfield portrays that builds throughout the film until an inevitable climax is emotionally striking and widely relatable. In a movie with nearly over-the-top musical numbers and occasionally messy moments, Garfield’s performance grounds the story in the emotions of Jonathan Larson’s journey. 


Overall Tick Tick Boom is an innovative take on the typical movie musical. Vignettes of Larson’s life are intermixed with musical numbers to tell the artist’s story in a way that is true to his genre. The fast pace also contributes to Larson’s sense of urgency throughout. However, the main downfall of the movie is that the complicated storytelling and unique take on many scenes may be lost on non-musical theater audiences. While the film has many excellent grounded musical numbers, performances such as “No More” and “Play Game” can feel over the top in contrast to the rest of the film. For theater lovers and fans of Larson, Tick Tick Boom and all of its references will be amazing. But for casual audiences, some of the scenes could come off as unusual. However, the key takeaway of the film is undoubtedly Andrew Garfield’s performance that beautifully honors Jonathan Larson, along with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s dedication to his hero.