tick, tick...BOOM!

tick, tick...BOOM! ★★

I should preface this review by saying that, as a non-fan of both Rent and Lin-Manuel Miranda, I am quite simply the wrong person to write anything about tick, tick… BOOM!. The movie was just not made for me. However, it was made for someone who's very important to me: my wife. So, because I love my wife very much, I ended up watching tick, tick… BOOM! with her last Saturday afternoon, and because I'm a psychopath who forces himself to write something about everything I watch, you (dear reader) and I are now both faced with the unfortunate predicament that despite being the wrong person to write anything about tick, tick… BOOM!, I have endeavored to do so anyway.

My first problem with the movie raised its head immediately: the voiceover narration. It seems to defeat the very purpose of the musical! I'm admittedly no expert in the genre, but it seems to be one particularly proficient at delivering emotion and character and meaning through song without resorting to didacticism, and yet nevertheless we have Andrew Garfield's lovable performance of Jonathan Larson interrupting the story at regular intervals in order to inform the audience as to what we're watching. This is a fine technique in theory, but in practice here (for me) it detracts by explaining what was already obvious.

But as a story about the artistic process, tick, tick… BOOM! at least tells a tale with which I am intimately familiar. Larson's internal conflict about struggling to do something meaningful with his life — and then realizing that you don't just do it once and then you're set for life, you grind and you grind and you grind until you've got nothing left to give and even then there's no guarantee of success — that's all generally compelling. Without a doubt my favorite song is "Why," Larson's moving refrain about being inspired to create ("Hey, what a way to spend a day") and then being confronted with adversity and the limitations of his abilities ("Am I cut out to spend my time this way?") and finally persevering in light of it all ("I'm gonna spend my time this way"). That's the good stuff.

Where I run into trouble is in the way the movie enthusiastically supports the fantasy of exceptionalism. Without a doubt my least favorite scene is when Larson goes to his friend Michael (Robin de Jésus) with his latest crisis: Michael attempts to comfort Larson with the assertion that he (Michael) was merely a "mediocre actor," one of countless in New York according to him, and that there's "only one" Jonathan Larson. This assertion seems to have some historical credibility, because, you know, it's true, there really was only one Jonathan Larson, and he did in fact turn out to be quite exceptional, but it's the celebration of this ideology that's poisonous to me, and it infects the rest of the movie.

It's the kind of fantasy that encourages people to live like Larson does in this movie, to live without balance and to set themselves on fire, and maybe I'm just a loser who tells himself that quality doesn't drive prestige and prestige doesn't reflect quality in order to excuse my own failures, or maybe I'm just a hypocrite who has been lucky enough to earn my own audience online but has now deluded himself into telling others that that attention isn't worth throwing yourself away, but I just think that the movie is a bit too willing to glamorize this self-destructive pursuit of singular fame against the backdrop of the "mediocre" masses. It feeds into a deeper ideological fantasy at the heart of American nationalism, the idea that we're special, that we're better than the rest of the world, when in reality no one's better than any next.

But maybe I'm just yelling at a movie for being what it always necessarily had to be: the celebration of an exception with little concern for what it says about the rule. I don't know; like I said: this movie was just not made for me. My wife loved it, though. She's the good one.


PS. A bit of a tangent, but tick, tick… BOOM! also falls prey to precisely the pitfall I just talked about over on my review of the new Beatles doc, of showing little other than writer's block and divine inspiration. Larson can't write until he can, and maybe it's more dramatic that way, but it's less compelling to me. As just some loser piece of shit glorified blogger (who am I to tell these folks what to do), to me it's that grey area in between writer's block and divine inspiration that's the true realm of creativity.

PPS. Paying lip service to the inspiration for Rent without going any deeper and giving the issues the time they deserve felt pretty disingenuous to me. The sad socio-economic reality of art and the homophobia propelling the AIDS crisis are all right there, and the film just does nothing with them. Anyway, what do I know? Sorry I watched this lol

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