By: Catherine Rae
The 2022 Oscar nominations are out, and it is no surprise that Andrew Garfield has received a Best Leading Actor nomination for his portrayal of Jonathan Larson in tick tick… BOOM! The 2021 film directed by the celebrated Lin Manuel-Miranda (his directorial debut) is an adaptation of the autobiographical musical by composer Jonathan Larson. Larson is best known for his hit rock musical, Rent and his legacy remains strong to this day.
Larson is remembered for his dedication to the arts, infectious spirit, and amazing creativity. As such an eccentric and powerful force, depicting Larson on the big screen would be a huge challenge. This challenge, however, seemed like a walk in the park for Andrew Garfield. As an actor known for roles such as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man and Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge, a movie-musical does not seem like Garfield’s cup of tea. The British actor has worked on the stage, though, in the play, Angels in America for which he won the Tony Award in 2018. Despite not being known as a singer, Garfield absolutely knocked it out of the park in tick, tick… BOOM! From the first note in the first song of the film, Garfield immediately embodies the late Jonathan Larson and sings like a seasoned Broadway professional.
The film opens with Garfield sitting at a piano on a stage in front of an audience. Accompanying him on stage are a group of musicians, and actor Joshua Henry, playing Roger Bart, and Venessa Hudgens, playing Karessa Johnson. Lin Manuel-Miranda took inspiration for this set-up from one of the few variations of tick, tick… BOOM where Larson had full musical accompaniment as well as two additional vocalists. This was a wonderful choice for the film because it allowed for interesting song dynamics and amazing harmonies. This still allowed for Garfield as Larson to remain the focus of his formally one-man show but gave him necessary support in each song to create a true movie-musical experience. Throughout the film, we are transported back and forth from his stage setting and within the real life of Larson and his friends: the Moondance Diner where Jonathan works, his Manhattan apartment, and a studio home to the workshop of Larson’s Superbia, a show that never quite made it to Broadway. No matter what setting, Garfield remains the focus of the film, for your eyes are quickly drawn to
his chaotic yet charming energy on the screen.
Garfield’s strength as a performer does not falter once in this film. Every song
showcases his talent in a new and unique way, justifying his recent Oscar nomination. There is one song in particular that shows how talented Garfield is and how much passion he put into his portrayal of Jonathan Larson: the second-to-last song in the film called Why. At this point in the story, Larson just discovered that his best friend, Michael, played by Robin de Jesús, is HIV positive. The events of tick, tick… BOOM take place during the AIDS crisis in New York City and Larson even mentions in the film how many friends he has lost to the virus. The news of Michael’s diagnosis leads into the song Why where we see Garfield exude true heartbreak and love. The song recounts Michael and Jonathan’s experience growing up together and doing theatre. We come to understand that Larson’s love of the arts came about with Michael right by his side. During his performance of Why, Garfield sits at a piano in an empty outdoor stadium. It is just Larson, the audience, and his piano. Throughout the duration of the song,
Garfield laughs, cries, and reflects on his life with his best friend. This extremely moving scene alone is all the proof needed to defend Garfield’s Oscar nomination.
All musical lovers and movie buffs alike can agree that Andrew Garfield fully understood the assignment in his portrayal of the late Jonathan Larson in Lin Manuel-Miranda’s tick, tick… BOOM. The film will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you want to sing and dance, and it will turn you into Andrew Garfield’s number-one-fan tick, tick… BOOM is streaming on Netflix and is a must-watch this Oscar season.