Meshuga for Movies: Tick, Tick… BOOM!

Welcome to the first-ever installment of Meshuga for Movies, Lost Tribe’s movie review column. We love movies — hence the “meshuga” part of the title — but we have our own unique criteria that sets us apart from other movie critics. We’re sort of like Rotten Tomatoes but with lox. Or like a video essay without the angry dude.

The first movie we’re looking at is Tick, Tick… BOOM! This Netflix original is a musical written by Jonathan Larson, the playwright most widely known for writing the hit musical Rent. Written by Larson himself, Tick, Tick… BOOM follows the writer as he confronts turning 30 in the 1990s, balancing his passions with his love life and losing friends to AIDS. With captivating songs and engaging cinematography, Tick, Tick… BOOM is a must-see.

You’ll find while reading this column that I am no movie expert, but I always love a good story to unwind with at the end of a long day.  Tick, Tick… BOOM  offers exactly that. Despite its unwavering portrayal of Larson’s life and life during the AIDS epidemic, it remains universal and timeless.  Tick, Tick… BOOM forces viewers to acknowledge that we are all caught in the urgency of a creative drive, and teaches us how to balance desperation with love, friendship, and that terrifying feeling that the clock is always tick tick ticking.  Tick, Tick… BOOM  dares to be biopic, fantasy, and musical, excelling at all three and more. 

One scene that I find myself drawn to over and over again is the usage of swimming throughout the film. I am no expert on either swimming or cinematography, but I find the scenes of Larson swimming to be striking throughout. He uses swimming to clear his head — and the film utilizes an overhead shot of him cutting through the pool as we hear his internal monologue. The juxtaposition of the calm clear blue water and Larson’s palatable anxiety is jarring in the most effective of ways.

One moment in particular finds Larson struggling to compose a song. All of a sudden the pool around him fills with music notes as we realize that through his exercise practice Larson is composing. This scene really articulated to me how busy and skilled Larson’s mind was that it could never be truly clear. His musical and his creativity were truly the centers of his life. 

The man himself, Jonathan Larson, is portrayed by one of my favorite unattainable Jewish celebrity crushes, Andrew Garfield. You may remember a younger Garfield as Peter Parker in  The Amazing Spider-Man,  or more recently in  Spider-Man: No Way Home.

With a score of 10 on Jew or Not Jew, Garfield is certifiably one of the chosen people. While he grew up secular, Garfield’s paternal grandparents are from Jewish immigrant families that came to London from Poland, Russia, and Romania. While he has described himself as an “agnostic pantheist,” he also calls himself a “Jewish artist.” In reference to his dual US and UK citizenship, he has stated that he “identif[ies] more as Jewish than anything.” 

That is not all that is Jewish about Tick, Tick… BOOM. Larson was also descended from a Jewish family with his paternal grandfather, Bernard Isaac Lazarson having been born in Russia. Thus making Tick, Tick… Boom, a fantastic example of a movie with a Jew playing a Jew, and cementing it as an essential choice for our very first movie review!

Review By the Numbers:

Humor — 3/10

While this movie is not laugh out loud funny, there are moments of charming glibness to offset the more serious topics. Garfield’s prowess shines in his balance of humor while also showing the deep sadness and pressure resting  on Larson’s shoulders. Tick, Tick… BOOM gets only a 3/10 because, while I did smile through the pain, I was in a lot of pain. 

Acting: 9/10

Garfield is a skilled actor and Tick, Tick… Boom really allows him to shine in all of his glory as a singer, dancer, actor, and overall performer. With a director as passionate and renowned as Lin Manuel Miranda, the supporting cast, including Alexandra Shipp as Susan Wilson, Jonathan’s girlfriend, a Robin de Jesús as Michael, Jonathan’s best friend, Vanessa Hudgens as Karessa Johnson, Jonathan’s friend and a performer in Superbia, Joshua Henryng as Roger Bart, Jonathan’s friend and a performer in Superbia are also extraordinary.

Storyline: 8/10

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again — Somehow this film manages to be indisputably about Jonathon Larson and unabashedly taking place in New York City in the 1990s while also being so completely universal. Larson is relatable! His desperation to be remembered and his feeling that he is running against the clock is a feeling that I know I have felt many times. The knowledge that the viewer has that Larson barely lived past 35 makes this feeling all the more palpable and real. The struggle he feels is one that every person has felt. What would you give up for your dreams and your purpose? Why is turning 30 the scariest feeling in the world? 8/10 because I still get chills. 

Jewishness: 4/10

We love seeing a Jewish actor portray a Jew on screen, but that should be expected at this point in 2022. I love supporting Jewish actors and Jewish characters, but this is not a Jewish story. Additionally, Larson’s character is not explicitly stated as Jewish. Thereby, we love it because it’s Jewish, but not Jewish. You get it? Tick, Tick… Boom! does everything right, but it doesn’t go above and behind. It still gets a 4/10, which we think is not too shabby at all.  

Emotions: 8/10
The emotions in this movie are intense to say the least. We don’t want to give anything away but the highs are high and the lows are low. Tick, Tick…Boom will have you laughing, and crying, and singing (yes singing is an emotion) and all in all verklempt. 

Music: 6/10

With the caveat that Broadway music is not for everyone’s taste, Tick, Tick… Boom’s music is wowza! I am no music expert but the talent of the actors’ voices, the pacing and beat, the tune, the lyrics are all mind boggling. Check out my personal faves Green, Green Dress (only on the soundtrack), 30/90, and Therapy, and you’ll be blown away. Some of the songs are more of an acquired taste, however.

How Badly I Wanted to Give Andrew Garfield a Hug Throughout: 10/10

Yes this was an easy 10/10 for Tick, Tick…Boom, but I dare you to watch the movie and tell me you don’t feel the same. 10/10 wholeheartedly.

Overall: 7/10 (yeah I did math for this – it’s called calculating the mean, ever heard of it?)

 I think 7/10 establishes this movie as a for sure must see. I won’t give anything away, but bring your tissues and your vocal chords for your perfect next movie night.