‘tick, tick…BOOM!’: A Love Letter to Anyone With a Dream

Lin-Manuel Miranda captures the energy and power of music in his feature film directorial debut.

jonathan larson in front of sign for rent for tick tick boom article


Andrew Garfield plays Jonathan Larson in “tick, tick… Boom!”


“tick, tick…BOOM!” released on Netflix on Nov. 19, proves that Lin-Manuel Miranda can handle the director’s chair, further cementing him as one of the brightest and most creative artists of our generation. Miranda crafts a beautiful and lively homage to all the dreamers and struggling music and performance artists through a reimagination of the musical “tick, tick…BOOM!” by theater composer and playwright Jonathan Larson, who is best known for his Broadway musical “Rent.” The film follows Larson (Andrew Garfield) in New York City in 1990 as he struggles to balance his personal relationships with his passion and dedication to finishing his musical. 

Throughout the film, Larson performs musical numbers on stage that reflect the days and moments leading up to his 30th birthday. In the opening number, “30/90,” Larson feels like time is running out. His 30th birthday is right around the corner, and he has yet to make the show that would launch his career onto Broadway. 

Other highlights of the musical numbers performed on stage are “Johnny Can’t Decide,” an inner monologue of how trapped and lonely Larson is feeling, “Therapy,” a comedic and energetic song about modern marriages and relationships and “Louder Than Words,” a powerful and melodic closing, beautifully performed by Garfield, Vanessa Hudgens and Joshua Henry. 

Miranda takes a unique approach in that the musical numbers often start with Larson performing on stage and then cut to flashbacks of Larson in the past, reflecting on his mindset and inner struggles. This is unusual in musicals, as typically musical numbers are fixed to a single time frame or setting. This method creates a sort of looseness and blending of time in the film. It works surprisingly well, allowing the lyrics and the music to tell the story instead of setting up a lot of exposition and relying on heavy dialogue. 

Some of the more memorable musical numbers performed strictly in flashbacks are “Boho Days,” a fun and vibrant song that takes place at a party in Larson’s apartment, “Sunday,” a full-out musical number at the Moondance Diner sure to delight and make theater fans jump for joy with plenty of Broadway cameos and “Why,” which reflects the culmination of all the emotions Larson has experienced with an emotional and rain-soaked performance in Central Park. 

Garfield is sure to earn a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars for his performance. His acting range is on full display as he easily weaves his way through a wide range of emotions through charismatic and soulful vocal performances, as well as memorable facial expressions. 

Another standout from the cast is Robin de Jesús, who started his career in a production of Larson’s “Rent” and was nominated for a Tony Award in Miranda’s musical “In the Heights.” Jesús plays Larson’s best friend Michael with poise and a sense of inner sadness. Jesús’ character is someone who, like millions of people before him, gave up on their dream because they didn’t have the resources, opportunities or confidence to continue pursuing their dream. 

The film will be especially relatable to Fordham students, as it takes place in several locations near Lincoln Center like Central Park.

At the core of the film are relatable themes of pursuing your dreams, appreciating the time and relationships you have and persevering through difficult times. The film is relatable and meaningful to anyone who has followed their dream or passion and is sure to please anyone with a love for music or theater. 

The film flooded me with memories of seeing Broadway musicals with my family, practicing dance and vocal numbers in school plays, and countless relationships I formed at music rehearsals and performances. I’m sure it will do the same for anyone who has a love for the arts. 

The film will be especially relatable to Fordham students, as it takes place in several locations near Lincoln Center like Central Park. More notably, the film needs to be watched by Lincoln Center theater students as it will recapture the energy and joy you feel when performing, and it will inspire you to continue to pursue your dreams and passions in the performing arts.

“tick, tick…BOOM!” emphasizes how the art of musical performance has the ability to create something full of life and energy in a world full of the unknown. In the words of the late great Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, “Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.”