TICK, TICK… BOOM*CUT TO THE CHASE*
The film opens with aspiring playwright Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) addressing an audience of people watching his show, “Tick, Tick…Boom!” at a workshop theatre in New York. He tells the viewers that he hears a ticking noise in his head that seems to be building up to something. He is accompanied by friends Roger (Joshua Henry) and Karessa (Vanessa Hudgens), as he talks about the week leading up to his 30th birthday.
We hear the voice of Jonathan’s girlfriend Susan Wilson (Alexandra Shipp) saying that everything that is about to be shown is true, except for the parts that Jon made up.
Jon initially works as a waiter at the Moondance Diner in SoHo with his friends Carolyn (Mj Rodriguez) and Freddy (Ben Levi Ross). He is currently working on a rock musical called “Superbia” that he has been writing for eight years. He wants to be as successful as others who achieved fame before the age of 30, knowing his youth is over (“30/90”). Jon takes the time to talk about the people in his life, like his best friend and former roommate Michael (Robin De Jesus), who was once an aspiring actor but got frustrated with it and moved onto advertising. Jon also talks about how Susan was formerly a dancer, but after suffering an injury, she turned to teaching dance.
Jon throws a party where Michael, Susan, Carolyn, Freddy, and many others attend, as Jon is preparing to leave Moondance to chase his Broadway dreams (“Boho Days”). Outside, Susan tells Jon about a job she wants to take in the Berkshires at Jacob’s Pillow (a dancing center), and she would like Jon to go with her.
Jon goes with Michael to the latter’s new apartment, where he is happy that he doesn’t have to deal with all the problems his old building had (“No More”). Jon later meets with Ira Weitzman (Jonathan Marc Sherman), the Musical Theatre Program Director at Playwrights Horizons, where Jon wants to present “Superbia”. Ira tells Jon that he needs to write a new song for the show, but Jon hasn’t been able to come up with a new song despite his knack for coming up with songs about almost anything. Jon also asks Ira for musicians for the show, even though Ira says the budget is tight.
During the show, Jon recalls another workshop for “Superbia” where he encountered his idol, Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford). While the head of the theater workshop, Walter Bloom (Richard Kind), had criticisms for Jon’s work, Sondheim was a lot more supportive, saying that while there are parts that need to be worked out, he feels that Jon knows what the show wants to be. Presently, Jon tries to get his agent Rosa (Judith Light) to invite Sondheim to the opening night of “Superbia”, but he ends up calling Sondheim himself, as well as others.
While watching “Sunday in the Park with George”, Michael offers Jon a chance to work for the marketing firm he is part of. Meanwhile, Susan once again invites Jon to join her in the Berkshires, but he is conflicted because he feels his time in the industry is coming (“Johnny Can’t Decide”).
At work the next day, Carolyn tells Jon that Freddy (who is HIV-positive) is in the hospital after suffering a high fever. Jon wants to visit Freddy in the hospital but knows he has to write a song for Ira. He and Carolyn are swamped at work for Sunday brunch, which Jon envisions with featuring a number of acclaimed Broadway performers (including Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldberry, Bebe Neuwirth, Bernadette Peters, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Phylicia Rashad, Chita Rivera, and of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda) while getting through the day (“Sunday”).
Jon later goes to the Theatre District for “Superbia” rehearsals as he thinks about the way the business works in regards to what plays and what doesn’t (“Play Game”), framed as a cheesy rap video. Jon meets with the cast and later complains to Ira that he doesn’t have musicians, but Ira says that only 12 people RSVP’d so far. At the same time, Jon is worried for Freddy because he already lost a few friends to HIV/AIDS.
Jon gets so deep into his work that he starts to put off plans with Michael and Susan. Susan goes to his apartment where she confronts him about his indecisiveness with joining her in the Berkshires. Their argument is represented through Jon and Karessa singing about it (“Therapy”), and Susan eventually has enough and breaks up with Jon.
Jon goes to the advertising firm that Michael set him up at. He worries that this is what his life will become, even if he does show something of a knack for presenting great ideas. However, despite considering it at first, he sabotages his chance by coming up with a condescending name for a fat substitute for cooking (he calls it “Chubstitute”). Michael later angrily confronts him about this, and as Jon says that Michael sold out his dreams for advertising, he hits back that it is difficult for him as a gay man during this time, as he doesn’t have the same options someone like Jon does.
Jon goes home and gets a phone call from Rosa, who sounds optimistic about “Superbia” opening. Just as he feels confident in writing a new song, his power is cut off in the apartment. He goes to a local swimming pool to gather some inspiration (“Swimming”), and the notes come alive to him as he is underwater.
It is the day of “Superbia”‘s workshop premiere. Slowly, people begin to show up, including Jon’s parents Nanette and Allan (Judy Kuhn and Danny Burstein), plus Michael, and even Sondheim himself. The show goes well, with Karessa belting out the new song (“Come To Your Senses”), but Jon envisions Susan being the one to sing it to him on a rooftop. The audience appears to enjoy it.
Rosa later contacts Jon, saying that “Superbia” has received raves, but she says it is a tough sell for Broadway and even off-Broadway, calling it “too arty”, but critics are excited to see what Jon has next, even though he is disappointed to hear this. Rosa encourages him to keep writing. Jon then goes to Michael’s job to bemoan this and ask for a job in the marketing firm, but Michael informs Jon that he is HIV-positive, and Jon becomes devastated (“Real Life”), realizing that his obsession with him achieving theatre stardom has cost him his friendship with Michael and relationship with Susan. During his show, Jon tearfully reminisces about how he has been in theater with Michael since they were kids (“Why”) as he is seen hopping a fence to a concert venue where he plays the piano. He goes to Michael’s apartment to make up with him.
On the day of Jon’s 30th birthday, he receives a voice message from Sondheim (the actual voice of the real Stephen Sondheim), who says he loved “Superbia” and would like to sit down and discuss more with him. He then goes to Moondance to celebrate his birthday, with Freddy having been discharged from the hospital to come attend, and Jon is elated to see him. Outside the diner, he sees Susan and goes to talk to her. They reconcile and part ways for the last time.
Susan then narrates that Jon’s next show was “Tick, Tick…BOOM!”, followed by a little show he had put off called “Rent”. It ran on Broadway for 12 years, but sadly, Jon died of a sudden aortic aneurysm the night before “Rent” had its preview shows begin. While Jon never lived to see his success, his work continues to live on and inspire people.
Jon concludes “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” with “Louder Than Words” as he looks optimistic about his future. People like Michael, Rosa, and others are watching the show, proud of him. The last scene is at the diner on Jon’s birthday, with Michael giving him a cake and telling him to make a wish.
Credits show pics and clips of the real Jonathan Larson.
Jonathan Larson is an aspiring playwright, worried that he has little time to achieve success before his 30th birthday. He is in the process of a workshop musical, "Superbia", which he thinks is going to take off. Although his friends support him, his obsession with hitting it big affects his relationship with his best friend Michael and girlfriend Susan.
After some hurdles, Jon presents "Superbia" to his friends and even legendary Broadway writer Stephen Sondheim, but while the show is critically praised, the show is deemed a tough sell for Broadway. After Susan breaks up with him and Michael is revealed to be HIV-positive, Jon puts his priorities straight.
Jon later creates the show "Tick, Tick...BOOM!" and later went on to create "Rent" for Broadway, but he sadly passed away the night before the preview shows for "Rent" began. While Jon never got to see the success he wanted, his work lives on.