“Tick… Tick… BOOM!” is the feature length directorial debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda (the creator of Broadway hits “Hamilton” and “In The Heights”) and is written by Steven Levenson (creator of Broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen”) based on the off Broadway production of the same name by Jonathan Larson (the creator of “Rent”). The film stars Andrew Garfield (“The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Hacksaw Ridge”) as Larson on the cusp of his 30th birthday as he feels his time is beginning to run out for his dream to become a hit Broadway composer. Trying to finalize his musical before the deadline to present it to top Broadway producer, Levenson must navigate love, friendship and his career dreams.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 2021 is the year of musicals. This is the 11th movie musical being released this year that I’ve seen and it isn’t even the last one set to come out this year. This is also, oddly enough, the third movie musical to come out this year that has had Lin-Manuel Miranda being closely involved with it… and it isn’t even the last one set to come out this year. This time, however, Miranda is actually directing the project in his first time directing a feature film.

Miranda’s lack of experience behind a camera does unfortunately show with this project as the film does get off to a rocky start, and by start I mean the first two acts. Miranda has had plenty of experience behind the scenes in the film industry ever since Hamilton became a cultural phenomenon back in 2016, but this is his first actual time directing something aside from a short film he apparently did back in 1996. The first two acts really lack focus and seem all over the place. I think this does have a lot to do with the editing as well as Miranda’s inexperience behind a camera. The editing is way too choppy, fast paced and doesn’t take the time to let us breathe and take in everything going on, especially with all the important topics the film touches on. Now to be fair, it may be kind of the point considering Larson himself is also not taking the time to calm down, breathe and take in everything going on around him so I guess I can give the editing a little bit of a pass in that sense, but that still doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t like that aspect of the film all that much.

Miranda is also much more heavy-handed in a lot of aspect in this second act. One glaring example of this is the musical number in the diner Larson works at. Here’s it’s no necessarily the musical number itself that’s heavy-handed, it’s that this scene is basically cameo city for Broadway musical fans. Obviously I’m not going to spoil exactly who all is featured in this scene because I don’t want to ruin that fun for the hardcore Broadway fans that will enjoy it, but besides the little smile on my face seeing certain actors I love, it really did take me out of the film. You could basically feel Miranda winking at the audience during this scene and this winking-feeling is very prominent throughout much of the first two thirds.

However, despite the rocky first two acts, the final act is basically flawless in my opinion. The emotional impact the last 20-30 minutes had on me was incredible and I wish the rest of the film was executed as perfectly as it was. It feels way more intimate, though-provoking and relevant during these acts and the musical numbers are far better here than in the first two (I’ll touch more on that later). Miranda really stuck the landing here and I can’t deny that it left me in tears by the end.

The performances are the reason to watch this film. Andrew Garfield is absolutely terrific as Jonathan Larson and delivers a top-tier performance in this role. You can really feel the stress he’s under and while his stress level is dialed up to an eleven throughout the entire film, that final act acts Garfield to come back down to earth and he does it perfectly delivering a truly impactful performance. Alexandra Shipp (“Love, Simon and “X-Men: Apocalypse”) also delivers probably the best performance of her career as Larson’s long time girlfriend while Vanessa Hudgens (“High School Musical”) is great, but isn’t given much to do. I can’t really call this Hudgens’s best performance because there isn’t much here to judge it off of, but for what little material she is given, she’s wonderful. I wish we could’ve seen more from her because she is absolutely electrifying and pops off the screen in the few scenes she’s in.

While Shipp and Hudgens are great and Garfield is amazing to and is getting all the Oscar buzz from this film, neither of those three actors are the standout in my opinion. The star of this film for me is Robin de Jesús, a long time Broadway actor who only just recently started getting into the film industry. De Jesús gives one of the best performances I’ve seen this year as Larson’s long time roommate and best friend and is to me the emotional center of the film, especially in that final act and is largely to thank for how successful that final act is. He’s in the film quite a bit, but I do still wish we got more of him because it’s clear he had a huge impact on Larson’s life, especially when you think about Rent.

The musical numbers are hit and miss in my opinion. All the songs in the final act are great, which, again is largely why the final act works as well as it does, but the songs in the first two acts are largely forgettable for me. The only memorable ones from those first two acts in my opinion and the only ones I actually think are good are “30/90” and the song Garfield and Hudgens sing during a fight between Garfield and Shipp.

While the first two acts aren’t great, the final act is so flawless that in the end, “Tick… Tick… BOOM!” is a must watch, especially for musical theater fans. Miranda may show his lack of experience in the director’s chair, but there’s not denying the passion he has for this project and the love he has for Jonathan Larson. It may not have been a perfect directorial debut from the Hamilton creator, but it’s just enough to make me interested in what he does next. “Tick... Tick... BOOM!” is currently streaming on Netflix.

Jordan Wooodson can be reached at jwoodson@thecabin.net

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