“There’s not enough time. I went to three friends’ funerals last year and nobody is doing enough. I am not doing enough!”
When Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda watched Jonathan Larson’s Rent and later played the legendary playwright, lyricist and composer in a theatrical adaptation, he probably came to realise the emotional and complicated psyche of the maestro whose desired success only reached him posthumously.
In his directorial debut on Netflix, he adapts this notion into a film to pay a heartfelt tribute to Larson while upholding the nuances of artistic precarity — Tick, Tick… Boom! is a triumph.
The title is derived from Larson’s eponymous screenplay and shows the urgency in his life to do something purposeful. Miranda upholds the artistic tension, frustration and vulnerability in a young Larson who is on the brink of turning 30 and is afraid of never tasting the success he yearns for; he is stuck working on a dystopian sci-fi musical Superbia for the last eight years while working as a part-time waiter. Although he receives unbridled support from his girlfriend Susan and friends Michael, Freddy and Carolyn, Jonathan is not unaware of how fast time is running out.
The premise of the film is based on the pressure on the artistic sensibility to create a masterpiece and leave behind a legacy. It resonates with and reflects the stories of, innumerable artists whose desire to leave an imprint on the sands of time drive them to the brink of madness. Despite raging poverty, Larson refuses to cave in. He does not lose his ecstatic nature either. His passion and beliefs are in contrast with Susan and Michael’s- both the performers let go of the artistic freedom and seek for materialism to stay afloat in the burgeoning capitalistic world.
Andrew Garfield, as Larson, adds a different dimension to the character. His ambition and confidence are well-weaved within his artistic block, frustration and vulnerability. While he would rather stay protected in his cocoon of art and music, the everyday realities of life and the pressure to live up to the expectations of people who have invested their emotions in him constantly mar his spirits. He is bubbling with words and music and lyricism but somehow fails to find an outlet till he finally goes swimming. Larson is driven by rejection to create something worth remembrance that would be a defining moment in his legacy.
Larson’s story is of unbridled extraordinaire. It is tragic yet heartwarming. While he dies right before he experiences his effect on the world of theatre, Larson’s luminous legacy lives on in the hearts of his fans. The film is a beautiful tribute to the legend and it is as if Miranda bows down in gratitude for the man who had an immense contribution to his career. The film also mentions HIV/AIDS and the lack of reaction to it that sparks an outrage — like an epidemic, it overshadows the lives of Larson’s closest friends that has a deep-rooted impact on his psyche. Larson’s real-life mentor, Stephen Sondheim, in a series of fictionalised events, makes a few appearances and seems to be the source of validation for a young Larson.
After watching Tick, Tick…Boom!, one might feel an overwhelming sense of dreaded relief. While the precarious condition of creativity and artistic capabilities in the modern world is evident, one cannot help but celebrate Larson’s eventual success. Garfield adds a certain sense of relatability to the character and makes him tangible. Through his frustrations, anxiety and paranoia are we see him as legitimate and human. Like Prufrock from T.S Eliot’s poetry, he understands and acknowledges the haunting transience of time. But he refuses to give up due to his sheer love and passion for music and story-telling and the unwavering faith in his abilities. Larson’s desire to tell the stories but the inability to find a suitable platform for it mirrors every artist’s desperation and despair- his ecstatic response to Sondheim’s call shows the joy of acceptance.
In his astonishing and emotional directorial debut, Miranda gives the perfect Thanksgiving gift to theatre aficionados and Larson enthusiasts in form of a delicate and splendid tribute to the icon.