The solitary artist: Andrew Garfield in 'Tick, Tick… Boom'

Express News Service

The lonely artist. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tick, Tick… Boom based on Jonathan Larson’s stage musical is the portrait of an artist’s struggle for art’s sake. It captures everything right and wrong about the perilous journey. Not objectively wrong, just the ones that hurt the most. Its ability to provide profound freedom and gratification, its Machiavellian conspiracy to inspire a strange concoction of pessimism and arrogance, and the soaring heights and deepest of nadirs its tentacles can reach. Tick, Tick… Boom is a biopic of composer and playwright Jonathan Larson anchored by his own show of the same name. Andrew Garfield plays Larson, his lanky frame of a man who has gone days without a meal, the unkempt hair, all of it embodying the very struggle of making it to Broadway.

At the centre of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature directorial debut is the question of job vs calling. While Jonathan is holding out and he is in for the longer haul, his best friend and roommate Michael (Robin de Jesús) has opted for a cushy job and a steady income. Even his new apartment is in a building called Victory Towers. The film defines the gulf between Michael’s corner office and Jonathan’s claustrophobic one, but it is also sharp in highlighting the privilege. Jonathan, a straight white cishet male doesn’t realise the freedom he has to chase his calling while Michael as a gay struggling actor is accorded far less security in early 90s America. Miranda’s quasi-musical throws in moments of Stephen Sondheim, a great mentor to Larson, watching early works of the young greenhorn in basement theatre workshops and guiding him with very little words of advice. 

As the title suggests, Miranda’s film with Steven Levenson’s screenplay is about an artist feeling boxed in, unable to find a way out of the shackles of his own art. Miranda brings a visual flair to capture these moments. Like when Jonathan is making a sweeping motion with his upper body over his keyboard, shot from above, it is like Jonathan going through the cyclical moments of creation. 

A song goes “I could get used to you” to capture Michael’s new found life, free of the baggage and it also reflects on Jonathan. Maybe he is getting used to the struggle itself, inured by the process like he is a man jogging but staying on the same spot for years on end. A single shot pans from Jonathan’s friend battling life in hospital to his girlfriend Susan on bed—waiting to be heard—to Jonathan writing and not writing – alone. 

A seemingly positive moment is preceded by Jonathan opening the door to his closet sized home and letting the light outside shine into his living room. Miranda doesn’t go as far as the creation of Rent, Jonathan Larson’s greatest success, a posthumous one. Miranda’s focus is on the man behind Rent but also before Rent— who, where and how he was as one among a thousand in every New York City agent and producer’s answering machine. It’s about a wildly talented but unsure man, unsure about his future and place in history and how lonely it can be. “You’re sure you’re sure?” he asks Susan. Nobody gets self-reflexive like the solitary artist.