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Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Vanessa Hudgens, Robin de Jesús, Joshua Henry, Judith Light, Bradley Whitford
OUR RATING: ★★★½
Netflix musical drama directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda based on the semi-autobiographical musical of the same name by Jonathan Larson. Tick, Tick…Boom! (2021) follows Jon (Andrew Garfield), a young theater composer who’s waiting tables at a New York City diner in the ’90s while writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. Days before he’s due to showcase his work, Jon is feeling the pressure from everywhere, from his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp), from his friend Michael (Robin de Jesús), amidst an artistic community being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. With the clock ticking, Jon is at a crossroads and faces the question everyone must reckon with, “What are we meant to do with the time we have?”
Our Favorite Quotes:'That's what it is to be a writer. You just keep throwing them against the wall, and hoping against hope that eventually, something sticks.' - Rosa Stevens (Tick, Tick...Boom!) Click To Tweet
Jon: Hi. I’m Jon. I’m a musical-theater writer. One of the last of my species.
Jon: So, you know, lately, I’ve been hearing this sound. Everywhere I go, like a tick, tick, tick. Like a time bomb in some cheesy B-movie, or a Saturday morning cartoon. The fuse has been lit. The clock counts down the seconds as the flame gets closer, and closer, and closer, until all at once…
Susan: This is Jonathan Larson’s story. Before the Tony Awards. Before the Pulitzer Prize. Before we lost him. Everything you’re about to see is true. Except for the parts Jonathan made up.
Jon: The date is January 26th, 1990. The setting, the barren, unfashionable no man’s land between SoHo and Greenwich Village. I have two keyboards, a Macintosh computer. A cat. An impressive collection of compact discs, cassettes, and records of other people’s music. Bookshelves sagging under the weight of plays and novels I didn’t write. I have an original, dystopian rock musical that I’ve spent the last eight years of my life writing, and rewriting, and rewriting.
Jon: I have rejection letters from every major and minor producer, theater company, record label, and film studio in existence. And in just over a week, I will be thirty years-old. Older than Stephen Sondheim when he had his first Broadway show. Older than Paul McCartney when he wrote his last song with John Lennon. By the time my parents were thirty, they already had two kids. They had careers with steady paychecks, a mortgage. And in eight days, my youth will be over forever. And what exactly do I have to show for myself? Happy Birthday.
Jon: Guys, this is the biggest break I’ve ever had. This is that moment. It’s the first time people are going to see the show that aren’t just us.
Freddy: Well, it’s good that you’re not putting too much pressure on it or anything.
Jon: It’s like, you get to a certain age, and you stop being a writer who waits tables, and you become a waiter with a hobby.
Michael: Boo-Boo, you need to ask yourself, in this moment, are you letting yourself be led by fear, or by love?
Susan: You just quit?
Jon: Well, no, I didn’t just quit-quit. I gave my notice.
Susan: That’s exactly the same thing.
Jon: No, I have two weeks left. I’m allowing myself to be led by love.
Michael: How was Philly?
Jon: I went from the airport to a conference room, and then back to the airport three hours later.
Michael: Sounds amazing.
Michael: You know, for someone who’s broke, you could probably spend a little bit less on party planning.
Jon: Well, what is the point of money, if you’re not going to spend it on the people that you love?
Michael: Yeah, except you don’t have any money.
Jon: Oh, right.
Jon: Susan grew up in a small town in the Midwest. She went to college to study biology, she thought she’d become a doctor, maybe teach. But then she fell in love with modern dance instead. Every parent’s dream, right?
Jon: But Susan is a real artist. She doesn’t care about seeing her name in the New York Times. It doesn’t matter to her if she’s dancing in front of five people, or in front of five thousand. And then there’s the matter of us.
Jon: Freddy, look, I’m leaving you my mixtapes. You can play them in remembrance of me.
Michael: Jonathan Larson’s famous Moondance Diner mixtape. Who doesn’t love showtunes with their French toast?
Freddy: Okay, listen. I’m happy for you. I really am.
Jon: Oh, yeah?
Freddy: I’m also extremely bitter, and jealous, and envious, and sort of hateful towards you right now. I mean, he’s getting out.
Jon: And you’re going to be next.
Freddy: Well, I got a callback last week.
Freddy: For a cruise.
Carolyn: What’s wrong with a cruise?
Freddy: Well, it’s an Arctic cruise, so pretty much everything. Every single thing is wrong with that. It’s in the Arctic.
Walter Bloom: [referring to Jon’s show] I’m lost. I don’t know what the show is. Is it social commentary? Is it science fiction? And the music is the same thing. Is it rock? Is it Broadway? Is it both? Is it neither? Steve, what did you think?
Stephen Sondheim: I have to say, I disagree pretty strongly, Walter. I think this is a musical that knows exactly what it is.
Jon: [referring to Sondheim’s words] “First rate lyric and tune.” Those five words were enough to keep me going for the next two years.
Ira Weitzman: A great song should sound great without any instruments.
'What is the point of money, if you're not going to spend it on the people that you love?' - Jon (Tick, Tick...Boom!) Click To Tweet
Michael: [as they’re watching the musical show on TV] I don’t understand, why can’t he just tell her he loves her? Why can’t he be an artist and love her?
Jon: He does love her.
Michael: Yeah, but like he can’t express it.
Jon: Well, yeah, that’s a personal problem. Yeah.
Michael: I’m saying, men!
Jon: Freddy, s**t! I should go to the hospital. When am I going to go to the hospital? I need to write. When am I going to write? I need to talk to Susan. I need to see Freddy. I should call Susan. Why can’t I write this song? How can you possibly be thinking about your show when your friend is in the hospital?
Jon: What am I doing here? I need to walk out that door and go. But it’s 9:30 on a Sunday morning at the Moondance Diner. I’m not going anywhere.
Jon: [answers a call] Moondance. What do you want? That was a Ghostbusters reference.
Do we take reservations? No, we do not… We’re a diner.
Jon: [referring to his musical] Superbia, a satire set in the future on a poisoned planet Earth, where the vast majority of humanity spend their entire lives just staring at the screens of their media transmitters, watching the tiny elite of the rich and powerful, who film their own fabulous lives like TV shows. A world where human emotion has been outlawed. This will be the first musical written for the MTV generation. This is my…
Jon: I told you I needed a band.
Ira Weitzman: It’s a hundred dollars for every musician.
Jon: Yeah. And your annual operating budget is half a million dollars?
Ira Weitzman: So far we’re up to twelve RSVPs, Jon. You don’t need a band with an audience of twelve people. You’ll outnumber them.
Jon: I went to three friends funerals last year. The oldest one was twenty-seven. Pam, Gordon, Ally. Freddy’s not even… He turned twenty-five two weeks ago. And nobody’s doing enough. I’m not doing enough.
Jon: There’s not enough time, or maybe I’m just wasting my time.
Jon: And what about Susan’s time? When am I going to talk to Susan? What am I going to say? I don’t know what to say. So Susan waits, and the time keeps ticking. Tick, tick, tick. And I have three days left until the workshop. Three days left to write this song. And if the song doesn’t work, the show doesn’t work, and then it’s all been a waste of time. Who gives a s**t about a song?
Susan: I need you to talk to me.
Jon: I’m writing, Susan. I’m writing!
Susan: You’re going to write a great American musical in the next ten minutes?
Jon: I have been rehearsing all day. I have been up since four this morning. I have been trying to write a song for a week, and I am nowhere!
Susan: I’ve been telling you how unhappy I am for months!
Jon: Everyone’s unhappy in New York! That’s what New York is!
Susan: You’re a million miles away all the time.
Jon: Actually, I’m right here.
Susan: Are you, Jonathan? Actually? Because I know you.
Susan: What if the workshop happens and nothing changes? No producer with a big check. You don’t go straight to Broadway. You’re still a waiter. You’re still living in this apartment. You’re still broke. What then, Jonathan? What about me?
Jon: What do you want?
Susan: I guess I just, I wanted you to tell me not to go.
Jon: Of course I don’t want you to go.
Susan: [to Jon] Oh, my God. You’re thinking about how you can turn this into a song. Aren’t you?
Jon: [referring to writing jingles for the ad company] I could get used to this. I could get paid for this. I could get health care. A 401K. A BMW. A luxury apartment on Central Park West. No, no, no. East. I could actually be rewarded for my creativity, instead of rejected and ignored. This could be the rest of my life.
Michael: It isn’t funny. This is my life.
Jon: No, it’s not your life. It’s advertising. It’s figuring out how to trick people into buying s**t that they don’t want.
Jon: I don’t understand how you can take any of this seriously.
Michael: Because they pay me to.
Jon: Money isn’t everything.
Michael: Well, it doesn’t hurt.
Jon: Are you sure about that?
Michael: What are you doing with your life that’s so noble?
Jon: I’m making art.
Michael: Ooh, that’s what the world needs. More art.
Jon: Actually, yes. And at least I’m not perpetuating a system that’s…
Michael: No. Spare the self-righteousness, Jon. You’re writing musicals in your living room. You’re not saving the rainforest!
Michael: Not all of us have the options you do. All the things that you take for granted.
Jon: What? Like what?
Michael: Like a life with the person you love. Do you know what I would give for that? You turn your nose up at it.
Michael: I can’t get married. I can’t have kids. Half our friends are dying, and the other half are scared to death they are next. So, I’m sorry for getting a nice car, Jon. I’m sorry for moving into an apartment with central heating. I’m sorry for enjoying my life while I still have time!
Jon: Here I am. The musical to which I have devoted my youth is about to be put on public display for every producer in New York. I haven’t written a single note, or a single lyric of the most important song in the show. I have no electricity. My best friend is furious with me. My girlfriend isn’t speaking to me. And there is only one thing I can think of to do. Swim.
Jon: The show is about to begin. The room is completely empty. The show is about to begin, and I am looking at sixty empty folding chairs.
Rosa Stevens: [to Jon] The first presentation of your musical is like having a colonoscopy in the middle of Times Square. Only with a colonoscopy, the worst thing that could happen is you find out you have cancer. With a musical, you find out you’re already dead.
Jon: And then, Karessa steps forward to sing my new song. Not even twelve hours old. I close my eyes. I brace myself. I don’t dare take a breath. But when I open my eyes, I don’t see Karessa there.
[he sees Susan singing the song]
Rosa Stevens: Everyone is telling me the same thing. “That Jonathan Larson! “I can’t wait to see what he does next.”
Jon: What do you mean, what I do next? What about Superbia?
Rosa Stevens: I always told you, it was a tough sell. It’s too arty for Broadway. Tourists aren’t going to shell out fifty dollars to see a show about spaceships and robots.
Jon: So what am I supposed to do now?
Rosa Stevens: You start writing the next one. And after you finish that one, you start on the next. And on and on. And that’s what it is to be a writer, honey. You just keep throwing them against the wall, and hoping against hope that eventually, something sticks.
Rosa Stevens: [to Jon] Listen. Little advice from someone who’s been in this business a long, long time? On the next one, maybe try writing about what you know.
Jon: I just spent the last eight years killing myself on a musical that’s never going to happen.
Jon: I can’t do it again, Mike. I can’t stomach five more years of waiting tables, five more years of writing things that no one will ever see, while Broadway just churns out mega-musicals without a hint of even the slightest thing original, or, God forbid, something to actually say about the world!
Michael: It would be a tragedy to give up what you have.
Jon: You did it.
Michael: Please! I was a mediocre actor. Do you know how many mediocre actors there are in New York City? Do you know how many Jonathan Larsons there are? One.
Jon: I can’t keep wasting my time, Mike. I turn thirty in two days.
Jon: And Stephen Sondheim was twenty-seven when he had his first show on Broadway!
Michael: Yeah. Well, guess what? You’re not Stephen Sondheim. You’re going to have to wait a little bit longer.
Jon: I’m not waiting anymore. I can’t keep waiting. This is my life!
Jon: I’m running out of time!
Michael: You are not running out of time.
Jon: You don’t know anything about it!
Michael: I’m HIV-positive.
Michael: [to Jon] Who knows? I might get lucky. People do. Live a year, longer even. Anyway, I think I might know a thing or two about running out of time.
Jon: I think of our friends, so many. I think of their funerals. I think of their parents not even fifty, saying the Kaddish over their children. I think of them, and I think of Michael. And before I understand what’s happening, I start running. Past the pond, past the carousel. The ticking is so loud now, I can’t hear anything. My heartbeat is pounding in my throat. The wind is shrieking through the trees. The sky is darkening. I want it to stop. I want it all to stop!
Susan: [referring to her present of a music notebook] It’s for the next one. Got any ideas?
Jon: Just questions.
Susan: That seems like a really good place to start.
Susan: The next one was Tick, Tick… Boom! After that, he went back to a project he’d started and put away, called Rent. It ran on Broadway for twelve years. It changed the definition of what a musical could be. What it could sound like. The kinds of stories it could tell. Jonathan never got to see it. The night before Rent’s first public performance, he died from a sudden aortic aneurysm. He was thirty-five years-old. He still had so many questions.