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'tick ... tick ... Boom!' review: Andrew Garfield is pure joy as Jonathan Larson

Andrew Garfield shows off his dramatic and musical

Andrew Garfield shows off his dramatic and musical talents as Jonathan Larson in "tick ... tick ... Boom!" Credit: NETFLIX/Macall Polay

THE MOVIE “tick … tick … Boom!”

WHEN | WHERE Now streaming on Netflix and in limited theatrical release

WHAT IT’S ABOUT The story of "Rent" creator and Adelphi University graduate Jonathan Larson comes to the screen as only it should: in a blending of fact and fiction, terrific music and self-effacing charm, wrapped together with a spirit of innovation and a great love for the theater.

This "tick, tick ... Boom!" brings Larson’s semi-autobiographical musical, which he wrote and performed before "Rent," to the movies courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who makes his directorial debut.

It’s about a young Larson facing the prospects of turning 30 in 1990, taking stock of a life filled to that point with professional frustrations and personal disappointment, but also a tight-knit support network of close friends, lovers and mentors, and a wealth of limitless potential.

Andrew Garfield stars, giving a performance that’s a revelation not only for his singing and dancing skills, but the genuine exuberance brought to every moment.

The movie offers a broader perspective on Larson’s achievements than past stage adaptations. It includes more songs from his abandoned sci-fi musical "Superbia," and incorporates references to the ways the struggling artist we see onscreen would change musical theater forever in a matter of years.

MY SAY "tick, tick ... Boom!" brings Larson to vivid and joyful life, refusing to allow his tragic death at age 35 in 1996 to define him.

There could not be a more ideal director for this story than Miranda, a theatrical innovator himself who is in many respects Larson’s successor. Instead of simply adapting the musical for the screen in an expected, straightforward form, the filmmaker presents a blend of monologues, fantasy scenes, comic numbers and heart-wrenching moments.

Scenes of Garfield onstage, backed by good pal Roger (Joshua Henry) and a band, combine with snapshots of life in his apartment (located in the "no man’s land between SoHo and Greenwich Village"), at his day job at the onetime SoHo-staple Moondance Diner, and in Theater District workshop spaces.

There’s a palpable sense of what it might have been like to be a down-on-your-luck artist, striving to make it and resisting the urge to sell out in early-1990s Manhattan.

Miranda’s staging of "No More" exemplies the entire scope of this state of being in one number, cross-cutting scenes of Garfield’s Larson and his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús), experiencing the misery of life in a six-floor downtown walkup with the creature comforts of a fancy new building uptown.

But what makes this movie so affecting is epitomized in the performance of "Sunday," Larson’s tribute to Stephen Sondheim (who also makes an appearance here, played by Bradley Whitford). It’s set at the diner, and in a magical fusing of generations of theater past and present, Miranda packs it with icons: Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters, Joel Grey, André De Shields, Philippa Soo, Brian Stokes Mitchell and plenty more join Garfield in an ode to the sights and sounds of this ordinary Sunday morning.

You have to wonder what Larson, who so wanted to take his place among these greats, would have thought of this.

Their message to him is clear: We miss you. We love you. We remember you.

BOTTOM LINE This is a must for theater fans, especially, but really for anyone looking for a movie that makes you feel just genuinely happy.

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