moviesmovington’s review published on Letterboxd:
Whoo, I have Thoughts™️.
It’s fine but ultimately rubbed me the wrong way. Keep in mind I’m not much of a Jonathan Larson fan - his era-defining smash RENT is unfinished, ranges in quality from brilliant to mediocre, and would never have achieved its iconic show-of-a-generation status if not for its creator’s tragic and untimely death.
The chief problem with this movie is that it’s one insufferable egotist (Lin-Manuel Miranda) paying tribute to another (Larson). I’ve always found Larson a pretentious try-hard in his exhausting quest to define himself as the next Sondheim even before he’d produced anything of significant value.
Miranda romanticizes Larson’s creative struggle in his directorial debut because he (like Larson) achieved ungodly levels of success at an early age and was groomed for it since childhood by his parents, schooling, and professional mentors. The fact that the central conflict of this movie is turning 30 is laughable, but Miranda takes it at face value. How many 20-something artists are getting personalized feedback from Stephen Sondheim?
As self-reflexive showbiz biopics go, what makes ALL THAT JAZZ a masterpiece is that Bob Fosse knows his fictionalized protagonist Joe Gideon is a narcissistic asshole. You can tell Miranda deeply identifies with Larson but there’s zero self-awareness here. Larson as a character is a self-centered piece of shit, alienating everyone around him in service to his barely formed “art,” unwilling to compromise or inconvenience himself in any way yet always playing the victim, but the movie wants you to root for him simply because he’s already proclaimed himself the next Sondheim - and get this, he NEEDS to find success before age 30 to somehow beat Sondheim’s historic achievement as the lyricist of WEST SIDE STORY. Grow the fuck up. I had no investment in Larson, which isn’t a knock on Andrew Garfield’s performance - he captures Larson’s exhausting “look at me!” theater kid energy a little too well.
The cameos will have Broadway Twitter creaming their jeans. I loved the little nods (Danny Burstein, Judy Kuhn, Danielle Ferland), but once Miranda trotted out legends like Bernadette and Chita Rivera for walk-ons it felt masturbatory. “Look at all the famous people I got to show up for my little movie!” It’s the same disingenuous aw-shucks fake humility Miranda is notorious for on his social media feeds.
It’s not that TICK TICK BOOM doesn’t work, but as it droned on for almost two hours (without forward momentum or any real stakes besides “this guy isn’t a rich/famous/culturally worshipped composer yet”), I tuned out.
In a way, Miranda is the perfect person to make a Larson pseudo-biopic. But a proper take on Larson’s legacy would involve more raw honesty and less stroking of Stagedoor Manor alums’ cliquey “no one will get this but us” in-jokes. It’s tailor made for the worst kind of drama club kid.
Miranda looks at Larson with rose-tinted glasses and glamorizes his early career challenges because both of them (despite Larson’s truly awful death) went on to define contemporary musical theatre with their work and make shit tons of money doing so - HAMILTON is by far the biggest (maybe only) pop culture juggernaut in the medium since RENT. It’s almost as if neither one can fathom not being successful because they feel they were pre-destined for it.
I’d like to see a version of TICK TICK BOOM that acknowledges Larson’s alienating foibles in the way Fosse deconstructed himself with a such a lacerating sting in ALL THAT JAZZ (maybe that’s too much to ask). Instead it’s blind hero worship, a pompous, congratulatory tone, and enough jerk off references to feel like Broadway’s version of AVENGERS: ENDGAME - there’s even one sequence that literally does this! Don’t worry, Lin also gives himself a can’t-miss-it surprise appearance because of course he does.
Whatever. Miranda and Larson’s entitled, overinflated talents clearly deserve each other.