How ‘tick, tick… Boom!’-ed its way to be 2021’s best movie musical

New movie-musical sparks reflection and questions on life, love, purpose in viewers

By Nicole Kim

With a surplus of high quality acting, music and thematic elements, “tick, tick… Boom!” is undoubtedly the best movie-musical of 2021. As someone who loves theater, I was merely interested in the movie, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the film’s originality, relatability, and its capability to induce thought-provoking reflections in its viewers. 

Starring Andrew Garfield, Vanessa Hudgens and Joshua Henry, the film is based on the semi-autobiographical musical written by Jonathan Larson in the 1990s. “Tick, tick.. Boom!” follows Jon, a musical theater writer who is about to turn 30, a milestone he is dreading.

While the screenplay itself is nothing extravagant, what makes me love this movie is how it beautifully tells a story that is authentic and meaningful, while also having unique character plots. Most of the story takes place during the turbulent week leading up to a workshop for Jon’s new musical. Jon’s struggles are an aspect of the world that is new to me, but being given a front row seat to a life so different from mine, made it all the more compelling. On top of that, each character is intricately written into Jon’s life, and represents something pulling Jon in a different direction. The plots that follow Michael and Susan are my favorite because of how they demonstrate the question “success or love?”.

FEAR OR LOVE: Jon, played by Andrew Garfield, is forced to ask himself questions about life. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Underneath the rock inspired music, Jon faces a crossroads — continue to pursue his dream or settle for stability. Being at a crossroads is such a timeless and almost cliché problem, but Jon handles his in a way that is relatable to all of us — procrastination. The subjective and open-ended answer for Jon’s dilemma made me question the choices I would make if I were in a similar situation; more often than not, I didn’t have an answer.

Philosophical questions like, “fear or love”  and  “why should we try to be our best when we can just get by and still gain?” are a theme in almost every song. Each existential question encompasses the problems within Jon’s life and the world, and connects to the movie as a whole. It feels to me as if the world is built around finding answers, however there may not be one, and sometimes it’s enough to keep going. As Jon starts to recognize this, I drew similar connections in my life and it serves as a good reminder that it is acceptable to not know the answer. 

During a pivotal point in the movie Jon’s lifelong best friend Micahel reveals to Jon that he is HIV positive. Jon is constantly battling time and this revelation forces Jon to wonder how he wants to spend his time on Earth — a question that I have never asked myself. Jon is scared of this question, a feeling completely relatable as existential crisis is not something many people enjoy. What Jon’s circumstance made me realize is that, I do not know what my time on Earth will consist of, and I know even less how long I have on Earth, however what I do know is that I can live intentionally. As Jon does, I had a small epiphany, something unexpected from a movie musical, but nonetheless impactful.

Overall, the film felt strangely relatable to high school and teenage years because of the tacit urgency and pressure to achieve, whether it be to get into an elite college or to simply feel good enough. 

Although filled with complex messages, the simplicity of the storytelling allowed me to follow Jon’s life and feel his struggles, making this movie one I am sure to revisit. The film forced me to ask myself questions that I never had, or that I was afraid of asking, and fully encapsulates the essence of a musical — sharing a story that has something to say about the world.