+ pre-recorded Q&A with director Lin-Manuel Miranda, producer Julie Oh, executive producer Julie Larson, writer Steven Levenson and actors Andrew Garfield, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus and Judith Light
Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of tick, tick…BOOM! has been a long time in the making.
The new film, featuring an all-star cast led by Academy Award-nominee and Tony Award-winner Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson, centres on the then-upstart composer and playwright as he attempts to create a musical theatre masterpiece. Larson wrote the original tick, tick…BOOM! at the same time he was putting the finishing touches on the show that would come to dominate the New York stage in the 1990s and beyond: RENT.
tick, tick…BOOM! also stars Alexandra Shipp (Love, Simon, X-Men: Apocalypse) as Larson’s dancer girlfriend Susan, and Robin de Jesús (In the Heights) as best friend Michael. As the friends traverse their artistic careers and major life decisions, they confront the AIDS crisis in its height, much as Larson did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning RENT. ‘Suddenly you were seeing people who had never been on a Broadway stage before; queer people, people of colour,’ says screenwriter Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen).
Although Larson didn’t live to see the success of either production – he died from an aortic aneurysm the morning of RENT’s Off Broadway premiere – his work influenced an entire generation of aspiring stage performers, Miranda among them. The New York native saw tick, tick…BOOM! as a 21-year-old theatre major and later caught producer Julie Oh’s attention playing Jon in a production of tick, tick…BOOM! just a year before his landmark Hamilton debuted on Broadway.
Miranda’s debut skilfully weaves on-stage performance with scenes of Larson’s life, paying full tribute to the musical genius. As LA Times’ Justin Chang puts it, ‘tick, tick…BOOM! feels refreshingly intimate and specific, idealistic but rarely naive, and grounded in a way that gives an unexpected lift to its flights of fancy.’
Brookie McIlvaine, Netflix production notes
The three most significant men in modern American musical theatre, Stephen Sondheim, Jonathan Larson and Lin Manuel Miranda are all present in tick, tick…BOOM! All three redefined the art form, but the tragedy of Larson is that he died before he saw his work achieve notoriety.
tick, tick…BOOM! is set five years before Larson’s death, as his thirtieth birthday and the workshop of his musical Superbia looms. Jonathan is living in a run-down apartment, ignored by his agent, working at a diner and trying to write the song the emotional arc of Superbia depends on. Despite the setbacks, Jonathan believes in his own talent. He’s buoyed by brief encouragement from Stephen Sondheim, and introduces himself at parties as ‘the future of musical theatre’.
Directed here by Lin-Manuel Miranda, tick, tick…BOOM! was originally conceived by Larson himself as an autobiographical one man show. After his death, the production was revived as a three-hander, bringing in his best friend and girlfriend as characters. In the film version, Miranda cuts between a stage performance of the songs with singers Karessa (Vanessa Hudgens) and Roger (Joshua Henry) to a cinematic retelling of events with Larson’s girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) and best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús).
As the film’s title card informs us, ‘Everything you are about to see is true, aside from the bits Jonathan made up.’ Andrew Garfield has a gargantuan task in the role of Larson: singing, dancing, appearing in almost every frame. His performance is pitched perfectly, even when the film’s energy and editing borders on chaos, Garfield remains a transfixing presence. In the spirit of Larson, Miranda’s direction explores the full potential of the musical, employing everything from stripped back acapella to glitzy multi-dimensional set pieces with dozens of voices in harmony.
Miranda’s tribute to Larson is as devastating as it is exuberant. Even the most upbeat of musical numbers are haunted by the spectre of death. Jonathan lost three friends to AIDS and the ‘tick, tick, tick’ he wrote about hearing – his sense that he was running out of time – was prophetic. After being immersed in Larson’s talent and struggles, the devastation sets in when, exhausted, Jonathan tells his friends he ‘doesn’t have five more years’ in him. It’s made all the worse to remember he had less than six.
Leila Latif, Sight and Sound, bfi.org.uk/sight-and-sound, 18 November 2021
Directed by: Lin-Manuel Miranda
©: Netflix US LLC
an Imagine Entertainment production
Production Company: 5000 Broadway Productions
Presented by: Netflix
Executive Producers: Celia Costas, Julie Larson, Steven Levenson
Produced by: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Julie Oh, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Co-producer: Deb Dyer
Unit Production Manager: Deb Dyer
Location Manager: Ryan Smith
Post-production Supervisor: Kelley Cribben
1st Assistant Director: Mariela Comitini
Script Supervisor: Thomas Johnston
Casting by: Bernie Telsey, Kristian Charbonier
Screenplay by: Steven Levenson
Based on the musical by: Jonathan Larson
Director of Photography: Alice Brooks
A Camera/Steadicam Operator: Michael Fuchs
B Camera Operator: Stanley Fernandez
Still Photographer: Macall Polay
Visual Effects Supervisor: John Bair
Visual Effects Producer: Lisa Kelly
Visual Effects by: Phosphene, Host VFX
Edited by: Myron Kerstein, Andrew Weisblum
Production Designer: Alex DiGerlando
Art Director: Deborah Wheatley
Set Decorator: Lydia Marks
Costume Designer: Melissa Toth
Make-up Department Head: Judy Chin
Hair Department Head: Mandy Lyons
Title Design: Teddy Blanks
Colourist: Stephan Nakamura
Colour by: Company 3
Songs and Score by: Jonathan Larson
Music Supervisor: Steven Gizicki
Choreography: Ryan Heffington
Sound Mixer: Tod A. Maitland
Re-recording Mixer: Paul Hsu
Supervising Sound Editor: Paul Hsu
Stunt Co-ordinator: Scott Burik
Unit Publicist: Julie Kuehndorf
Andrew Garfield (Jonathan Larson, Jon)
Alexandra Shipp (Susan Wilson)
Robin de Jesús (Michael)
Joshua Henry (Roger)
Bradley Whitford (Stephen Sondheim)
Tariq Trotter (H.A.W.K. Smooth)
Judith Light (Rosa Stevens)
Vanessa Hudgens (Karessa)
Jonathan Marc Sherman (Ira Weitzman)
Mj Rodriguez (Carolyn)
Ben Levi Ross (Freddy)
Laura Benanti (Judy)
Danielle Ferland (Kim)
Michael Diamond (Peggy)
Utkarsh Ambudkar (Todd)
Gizel Jimenez (Cristin)
Kate Rockwell (Lauren)
Aneesa Folds (Danya)
Joel Perez (Lincoln)
Courtesy of Netflix
IN PERSON & PREVIEWS
Sun 12 Dec 15:30
Woman with a Movie Camera: Bridget Jones’s Diary at 20 + Q&A with director Sharon Maguire
Thu 16 Dec 18:00
Preview: Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Guzen to sozo)
Wed 29 Dec 18:00
Welcome to the home of great film and TV, with three cinemas and a studio, a world-class library, regular exhibitions and a pioneering Mediatheque with 1000s of free titles for you to explore. Browse special-edition merchandise in the BFI Shop.We're also pleased to offer you a unique new space, the BFI Riverfront – with unrivalled riverside views of Waterloo Bridge and beyond, a delicious seasonal menu, plus a stylish balcony bar for cocktails or special events. Come and enjoy a pre-cinema dinner or a drink on the balcony as the sun goes down.
BECOME A BFI MEMBER
Enjoy a great package of film benefits including priority booking at BFI Southbank and BFI Festivals. Join today at bfi.org.uk/join
We are always open online on BFI Player where you can watch the best new, cult & classic cinema on demand. Showcasing hand-picked landmark British and independent titles, films are available to watch in three distinct ways: Subscription, Rentals & Free to view.
See something different today on player.bfi.org.uk
Join the BFI mailing list for regular programme updates. Not yet registered? Create a new account at www.bfi.org.uk/signup
Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email