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Tick, Tick… Boom! review – Andrew Garfield conquers musical theatre

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut is a vibrant, heartfelt ode to Rent composer Jonathan Larson, hinged on a brilliant lead turn

Though it’s Lin-Manuel Miranda who needs the Oscar to join the ranks of the esteemed EGOT winners, it’s his latest film's star, Andrew Garfield, who might be in for a better chance at bagging the Academy Award this time around. He's absolutely thrilling to watch in Miranda's feature debut Tick, Tick… Boom!, a love letter to the world of musical theatre and a meta-musical memoir – a musical based on a musical about writing a musical.

To explain: Miranda’s film is an adaptation of the late Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical musical of the same name. One of Larson’s lesser known works, it's a confessional musical chronicling the ups and downs of writing a retro-futuristic musical called “Superbia.”

While most will known Larson from his cultural sensation Rent, Miranda’s film finds its unyielding focus on the writer's early days with show-stopping results. Scripted by Dear Evan Hansen librettist Steven Levenson, it takes some creative liberty but is structured around an on-stage Garfield’s expository retelling of the very narrative we cut away from – a nod to the self-referential monologues of Larson’s theatrical writing.

Miranda’s work has always been inspired by the soundscapes of life. In In The Heights, it was the rattling of the Washington Heights subway. In Hamilton, the rhythmically lyrical debates of the Founding Fathers. Underscoring Tick, Tick… Boom! is the unstoppable tick, tick, ticking of a clock’s second hand. The metronome provides a deafening motif that haunts Jonathan as he rushes to complete “Superbia” for a make or break workshop performance. But the ticking grows louder and impossibly faster as he approaches thirty and realises there’s nothing he can do to slow the relentless pursuit of life’s second hand.

While it seems these heavy thematics might weigh down Tick, Tick… Boom!, Garfield imbues Jonathan with such an exhilarating exuberance that the film never loses its sense of buoyancy. His past stage roles have clearly equipped him with the thespian abilities to embody one of musical theatre's true greats. You can feel the love of Jonathan’s craft as it floods his lungs during his day job waiting tables at a grotty NYC diner, before rushing home to exhale his lyrical melodies on the electric keyboard in a crumbling city apartment. It is Garfield at his finest.

In Miranda's capable hands, the musical numbers are beautifully composed, as theatrical choreography and cinematic stylisation seamlessly come together to elevate the film’s lyrical grandeur. Cinematographer Alice Brooks, who also helped to bring In the Heights to life, also returns with a combination of disarmingly earnest frames and gymnastic camerawork that give Garfield what he needs to steal the spotlight.

As Larson's girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) and best friend Michael (the brilliant Robin de Jesús, who rivals Garfield with a superb turn) both choose to abandon the arts in favour of financial stability, the film's songs about the fear of failure come to feel less like cliche and more akin to harmonised expression.

Featuring a bucket full of cameos from the theatre world, and not just the ones you expect, Tick, Tick… Boom! turns the volume up to eleven at the halfway mark and captivates until the very last frame. This is a watercolour of a biopic, where reality and fiction are brilliantly blended, and a portrait of theatrical adoration that bows down to Larson for transforming the landscape of a world that Miranda himself would later conquer.

Tick, Tick… Boom! is in select cinemas on 12 November. It will be released on Netflix on 19 November.

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