Movie and TV reviews – Success Stories: “tick, tick…Boom!” and “King Richard.”
If Lin-Manuel Miranda seems to be everywhere these days, well…it’s because he is: “Hamilton” is still running all over the country, the recent film adaptation of “In the Heights” is now streaming, Disney’s new release “Encanto” includes songs with his lyrics, and “tick, tick…Boom!” represents his film directorial debut. So believe me when I say he’s everywhere (and if you were in NYC’s Duffy Square on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend for the tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim, he was there, too). Luckily for viewers at large, “Encanto” has received mostly good reviews, while “tick, tick…Boom!”, about the late Jonathan Larson’s early attempt to achieve success as a musical theater composer (prior to his achieving fame with “Rent”) is vibrant, tuneful, and poignant. It is anchored by an energetic and captivating Andrew Garfield performance that flawlessly captures the manic, obsessive Larson as he faces the daunting challenges of time (he’s fast approaching his 30th birthday and feeling very much the underachiever) and resources (rather, the lack of them), as well as his own precarious emotional state.
Skillfully adapted (and opened up) by Steven Levenson under Miranda’s sure-handed direction (the guy’s got a knack), “tick, tick…Boom!” captures the spirit of the original production, in which Larson (Garfield) recounts this turning point in his life within the context of a stage show (called “Tick, Tick…Boom” ). Larson wants—needs to be a success, and he feels his musical “Superbia” might be the ticket; however, he’s still stuck working at the Moondance Diner, he’s missing a final song and the clock is ticking. If that isn’t enough, his agent (Judith Light) isn’t returning his phone calls, he’s got a girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp) who’s weighing an offer to move away from NYC, and he harbors some love/hate feelings toward his best friend (Robin de Jesus) who threw in the theater towel to become a success in advertising. Andrew Garfield, though technically not a singer, proves himself a compelling performer, one who manages to hold his own alongside some Broadway notables and Hollywood veterans (not to mention a pop star, or two). He takes Larson’s fierce, uncompromising creative passion and self-centered behavior and manages to make him likable and even sympathetic. There is plenty of sterling support for Garfield, from Robin de Jesus as his supportive best friend, Alexandra Shipp as Larson’s girlfriend, Vanessa Hudgens and Joshua Henry as friends and performers in Superbia and “Tick Tick…Boom.” And that’s not even including members from the Broadway community who appear in cameos (Laura Benanti, Danny Burstein, Judy Kuhn), and all those who take part in the homage to Sondheim’s “Sunday,” this time at a brunch in the Moondance Diner. There is plenty to enjoy here, and to be moved by, especially in these most uncertain times, since we all know that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to everyone, and how important it can be to make a difference while you still can.
“King Richard” is another biographical tale anchored by a strong star performance as it tells the story of a father who will stop at nothing to see his girls achieve success. In this case, it’s Will Smith as Richard Williams, the wheeling and dealing father of two girls Venus and Serena, both of whom might be considered tennis prodigies (!). As the film opens, the indefatigable Williams is doing everything he can to find a tennis coach for his inordinately talented girls, since he has taken them as far as he could (beginning when the girls were not yet five years old) on whatever courts and equipment were available to a Black family living in Compton in the early 1990s. Smith’s Williams is brash and protective, but also vulnerable and extremely stubborn—which leads to some difficult situations, from threatening neighborhood Black toughs to interactions with the white power figures in the world of tennis. Aided by Zack Baylin’s script and Reinaldo Marcus Green’s direction, Smith doesn’t play Williams for sympathy: his Williams is loving and caring, but can also be arrogant, dismissive, insensitive–and for all his talk about his girls’ bright future, he is somewhat skittish and defensive about letting them prove themselves. And though circumstances do prove him right, there still remains the nagging thought that things might have turned out even better (or sooner) if he hadn’t held them back from competition for as long as he did.
As good as Smith is, this is no one-man show. Aunjanue Ellis is perfection as Williams’ patient, supportive wife—especially in the moments when she challenges Williams and tries to make him face up to a few of his shortcomings. (There is also a sublime moment when she calmly but firmly confronts a neighbor over her interference. Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal are also quite good as two professional coaches who also want what’s best for the girls, though this means going against the rather single-minded Williams in some well-played (and well-matched) confrontations. Finally, Venus and Serena Williams could not find better on-screen surrogates than Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton. You believe them as sisters, and both actors have exquisite moments, especially in scenes where they have to convey disappointment followed by resilience. If the (somewhat overlong) film falls a little short, it’s in the last scenes—partly in the handling of the climactic match (which had a very real outcome) and partly in what the movie deems to be of supreme importance (hint: it has to do with Reebok), at least in the postscript. However, if you can look past that, “ King Richard,” with its abundance of fine performances, is pretty satisfying entertainment.
More movie and TV reviews: “The Harder They Fall,” “Passing” and “Dune”