Let’s first start with Jonathan Larson’s Rent, which was at its very best, catchy and urgent, and at its worst, cheezy, inbred, bombastic and cloying. Its’ influence, the greater rock/popification of Broadway, is undeniable, if not universally acclaimed. But it is what it is, and I always found it to be meh.
As did the South Park guys.
tick tick . . . BOOM! is Larson’s solo work just before Rent, as directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and tells Larson’s story as he tries to get a musical off-the-ground.
The picture is a love letter to theater and theater kids. It is populated by scads of Broadway regulars and icons, in what comes off as a tribute to Larson, who tragically passed away from an aortic aneurysm before his triumph Rent opened.
The film’s exuberance is near-irresistible. As Larson, Andrew Garfield is so winning, so all-encompassing in his love and enthusiasm for the character and the numbers, that even without Miranda’s clever and engaging staging, he would have carried this thing on his back and across the goal line.
Of greater moment is the dawning that his one-man musical before Rent was better, in total. The numbers are strong, less gloppy and a little more introspective, and Larson has a better handle on communicating his own artistic struggle than in conveying the plight of the East Village bohemians. For example, this clever, Sondheim-esque ditty is better than most of Rent.
The film suffers from some of the same moral simplicity and noxious casualness that Rent evinced at its worst (who can stand La Vie Boheme when all the self-satisfied, insular riff-raff take up an entire table and “never buy” – Fuck you, waiter! We’re artists!) but it is brief and unobtrusive. In tick tick . . . BOOM!, Larson writes a funny, fantasy piece about escaping the miseries of the City and all of its indignities. In Rent, he has a bunch of pretty, smug faces ennoble the crud.
Great fun. On Netflix.