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‘Tick, Tick…BOOM!’ masterfully comments on anxieties of adulthood

Dynamic musical scores, artful performances bring Larson’s experiences to life

<p>The film soundtrack features songs written by Larson himself such as “30/90,” “Johnny Can’t Decide,” “Why” and “Swimming.”</p>

The film soundtrack features songs written by Larson himself such as “30/90,” “Johnny Can’t Decide,” “Why” and “Swimming.”

What do you do when you feel like you’re running out of time? When all of your friends have their lives together and you’re still barely aware of your weekend plans? You can’t help but doubt whether every decision you make toward your ambitions is correct. Directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and first composed as an autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson, “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” hits on these anxieties and more with strong performances from all actors, hard-hitting tracks and an astounding musical performance from Andrew Garfield as Larson himself.

The movie starts a week before Jonathan’s workshop for “Superbia,” his first musical, which he has been developing for eight years and to which he “devoted his entire youth.” But these seven days turn out to encompass a number of trials for Jonathan. He struggles financially as he is behind on rent. His best friend and roommate, Michael (Robin de Jesus), moves out after relinquishing his own dreams of becoming a musical actor, opting instead for a mundane job at an advertising firm. Jonathan faces additional challenges in his love life. His girlfriend, Susan (Alexandra Shipp), similarly decides to quit professional modern dance, sparking conflict in their relationship as she lands a teaching job in the Berkshires in Massachusetts and wishes to move there with Jonathan. With only a week left before the workshop, Jonathan is also missing the most critical song of his musical which signifies the turning point in the protagonist’s life. All these personal problems are then presented with constant uneasiness as the AIDS crisis of the 90s rages in the background of the narrative.

The magic of “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” comes from its soundtrack, written by Larson in real life. The upbeat music with distressed lyrics found in songs such as “30/90” and “Swimming” convey Jonathan’s confusion as he navigates his last week before entering his thirties. Strong bass and drum sections bring these songs alive and inject youthful impatience into the musical experience. Still, Larson creates a balance as he also introduces more mellow, reflective songs such as “Johnny Can’t Decide” and “Why.” Through this, he depicts Jonathan’s deeper desires and foregone memories, prompting viewers, regardless of their respective generations, to crave the nostalgia of their own childhood.

In addition, Jonathan’s leitmotif, the ticking of a clock, follows him throughout the movie and his musical scores. This ticking, which at first is merely an enjoyable accompaniment to the music, becomes increasingly eerie as the movie progresses, creating a saddening little detail that hints at the tragedies yet to come in Larson’s life.


As a whole, 2021 was Miranda and Garfield’s year. A number of movies that Miranda contributed to in 2021 received critical acclaim after being continuously delayed due to the pandemic. “In the Heights” and “Encanto” are some of the titles that have made headlines in the past year. Similarly, Garfield’s career entered the spotlight as he made several appearances in memorable titles such as “Mainstream” and “Spiderman: No Way Home.” The collaboration between these two big names had great results, with “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” being deemed an American Film Institute Movie of the Year and Garfield winning the 2021 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy.

“Tick, Tick…BOOM!” leaves the viewers with various lessons. The most evident moral is an encouragement to viewers to pursue their ambitions. One question repeated throughout the movie musical is “fear or love?” Are our actions governed by our love for the subject or by fear of failure? The film teaches us that if we pursue something out of love, we are not wasting our time.

While this lesson could easily have an unrealistic happy ending, “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” evades this cliche by shedding light on Jonathan's struggles. While he may not be wasting his time, pursuing what he loves is no easy feat: It is achieved through blood, sweat and tears. Moreover, the numerous pragmatic paths followed by other supporting characters, including Michael and Susan, ground the movie. Because there are characters taking realistic steps toward a stable and safe life, the audience cannot help but admire Jonathan’s distinctive reckless ambition.

Larson’s tale is also a cautionary one, warning viewers to not allow this ambition to blind them to other parts of their life. Throughout the movie, Jonathan struggles with juggling his relationships and passions, making several blunders as he frequently gets his priorities wrong — a very human and relatable dilemma familiar to many individuals first entering adulthood. Jonathan’s experience shows viewers that even the most talented and famous artists go through the same struggles as us, even doubting their work and quarreling with roommates in uncomfortable, tiny apartments in the city.

Miranda’s “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” is a love letter to a Broadway musical written by Larson himself, a brilliant masterwork that will prevail against the test of time due to its universality. A deep dive into an extraordinary artist’s mind, Miranda’s work brings Larson’s musical justice.



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