This review contains spoilers

“Tick, tick … BOOM!” the feature-length film and directorial debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda that was released on Netflix mid-November, owes its greatness to two factors: Andrew Garfield and Jonathan Larson’s ingenious eponymous play.

“Tick, tick … BOOM!” is an adaptation of a semi-autobiographical musical created by playwright Larson, creator of Broadway smash hit “Rent.” Garfield stars as Jonathan, an aspiring, struggling playwright trying desperately to get his foot in the door of show business with a futuristic rock opera. While the character may teeter on the edge of the tortured artist archetype, Garfield’s sincerity shines through, preventing too many clichés.

Going into the film, I wasn’t optimistic. I didn’t like anything Miranda has been involved with before and assumed “tick, tick … BOOM!” would carry the annoying flair he seems to impart on everything he touches. However, the plot and music were so cohesive and strong together that I almost forgot Miranda directed it (which is a good thing).

The chronology of “tick, tick … BOOM!” was confusing for the first half hour or so. Because of the film’s structure, songs were being performed from Miranda’s musical itself as well as the musical Jonathan is producing. This confusion thankfully melts away to reveal a borderline-manic writer too zoomed in on his impending birthday to see the more important things in life.

Jonathan has a dancer girlfriend named Susan (Alexandra Shipp), who loves him but can’t deal with his extreme behavior surrounding the completion of his musical. A similar relationship breakdown occurs with best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús), but the two are ultimately able to sustain the friendship.

Garfield has proven himself to be a reliable dramatic actor in the past, receiving critical acclaim for his roles in “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Silence,” but it's only now in “tick, tick … BOOM!” that we’re seeing his true abilities. Garfield glides from impassioned to defeated and from laughing to sobbing with such ease and grace that I would have no trouble believing this was actually Larson.

Perhaps the biggest delight was hearing Garfield sing. Not only is his tonal quality terrific, but the songs he performs feel molded to his voice. There are gentle, simple piano melodies and expertly crafted rock ballads that Garfield performs without a hint of strain. Whatever the tune, it’s evident to anyone with ears that Garfield trained intensely for this role.

The theme of time is hammered home in several aspects of this film. Jonathan fears getting older without being successful, which remains his biggest concern throughout the film. He repeatedly mentions that Stephen Sondheim had his first Broadway show before 30 years old, and the constant tick, tick, tick in the background reminds us that Jonathan’s time is running out.

Another aspect of time in a more serious sense is HIV. Near the start of the film, Jonathan’s HIV-positive friend and fellow waiter Freddy (Ben Levi Ross) ends up in the hospital. Later, when Jonathan finally finishes putting together the presentation of his musical, it’s Michael who reveals himself as HIV-positive.

The commentary on the struggles of gay men in the early 1990s is overt, but underlying commentary on societal norms regarding money and relationship power dynamics is present as well. These subtle nods to what Larson wanted to do with his work give the viewer even more context for his game-changing musical “Rent.”

Feeling burned by Miranda in the past, I was sure “tick, tick … BOOM!” would end up on the long list of stuff I hate. This feeling quickly subsided and I was pleasantly surprised and moved by Garfield’s technical and emotional performance, both as an actor and musician. Let’s hope Garfield stays in a musical mood for years to come.

Emma Trevino is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @itsemmatr