Film and Plot Synopsis
The film follows Jon, a young theater composer who’s waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 while writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. Days before he’s due to showcase his work in a make-or-break performance, Jon is feeling the pressure from everywhere: from his girlfriend Susan, who dreams of an artistic life beyond New York City; from his friend Michael, who has moved on from his dream to a life of financial security; amidst an artistic community being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. With the clock ticking, Jon is at a crossroads and faces the question everyone must reckon with: What are we meant to do with the time we have? (Courtesy of Netflix)
‘tick, tick… Boom!’ Movie Summary
The film then jumps back to early 1990 when Larson is struggling to make ends meet while working at the Moondance Diner in Soho while simultaneously preparing his passion project, a musical named Superbia, for a workshop. Larson is under intense pressure, placed entirely upon himself, to become successful before he turns thirty. With his thirtieth birthday merely a week away, Larson feels that the workshop is his last chance.
On a night off from work, Larson throws a party at his apartment with friends, including his former roommate and best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús), his somewhat steady girlfriend Susan Wilson (Alexandra Shipp), and his co-workers from the diner Freddy (Ben Levi Ross) and Carolyn (Mj Rodriguez). During the party, Susan tells Larson about an offer that she has received for a teaching job at Jacob’s Pillow that she needs to make a decision on. Susan asks Larson to come with her. Larson is hesitant about the idea.
Everything you are about to see is true… except for the parts Jonathan made up.
Susan Wilson (Alexandra Shipp)
Michael advises Larson to consider Susan’s offer as he sees it as an opportunity for his friend to have a serious future. Michael used to be an actor but left the profession to pursue a lucrative advertising career. Michael even invites Larson to join an advertising focus group at his company, but Larson does not take the offer or the job itself seriously. At the same time, Larson’s workshop producer and the head of local musical theater Ira Weitzman (Jonathan Marc Sherman) advises Larson to write a new song for the Superbia play. Larson takes the criticism having been given the same advice previously by his idol Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford) years before at a composing workshop. However, Larson struggles to write the song that the musical desperately needs.
With less than a week to go, Larson struggles to write the song due to the distraction of Michael and Susan’s offers. Things only get worse when Larson discovers that Freddy, who is HIV-positive, has been hospitalized. Susan grows tired of Larson’s indecision and his self-obsession with his own career. She breaks up with him just as Larson’s begins to hit his lowest point. At the same time, Ira informs Larson that the workshop does not have the money to support the number of musicians that Larson desires. Larson attends Michael’s advertising focus group to make some additional money to fire more musicians for the musical. However, Larson sabotages the focus group which angers Michael. Michael accuses his best friend of wasting the privilege to have a life with the person he loves on a financially unstable theater career.
Larson is close to quitting when he receives an encouraging call from his agent Rosa Stevens (Judith Light). Larson refocuses once again and tries to write the last song, but the power is cut off for his apartment due to his failure to pay his bills. Larson goes to a swimming pool to vent his frustrations, but ultimately finds his inspiration to write his last song. The workshop goes off without a hitch. It is attended by Larson’s friends, family, and several industry professionals, including Sondheim himself. Larson receives heaps of glowing praise, but strangely no offers to produce Superbia. In the aftermath, Larson questions what he is to do next, and Rosa tells him to continue writing and begin work on his next project. She informs him that rejection is the life of a Broadway writer.
Larson is distraught over the idea of starting over again. He runs to Michael and begs for another chance at the corporate job that he sabotaged. Having seen Superbia, Michael changes his mind about Larson’s career path and encourages him to continue working in musical theater. Michael also reveals to Larson that he is HIV-positive.
Devastated at the news of his life long best friend’s illness, Larson suddenly realizes that his career obsession has caused him to not be present and accessible to his loved ones. That his years struggling to write Superbia cost him his relationship with Susan and harmed his friendship with Michael. Larson wanders aimlessly through New York and ends up at the Delacorte Theater. He finds a piano and reflects on his friendship with Michael, recalling his memories of his best friend back to their childhood together. Larson understands the sacrifices that sometimes must be made for his career and reconciles with Michael.
On the morning of Larson’s 30th birthday, the struggling playwright receives a call from Sondheim who congratulates Larson on Superbia and offers to discuss the musical further. The unexpected phone call lifts Larson’s spirits. Later that evening at his birthday party at the Moondance Diner, Larson is relieved to learn that Freddy has been discharged from the hospital. Susan attends the party and gifts Larson blank sheet music to help with his career. The former couple do not reconcile but part amicably.
Susan’s character narrates the remainder of the film. Larson’s next project is Tick, Tick… Boom!. Afterwards, Larson returned to a prior project which became the musical Rent, his final project. Unfortunately, Susan reveals that Larson died of an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm the night before Rent was begin previews Off-Broadway. Larson never experienced the success that he sought his entire life. The film ends in 1992 with Larson performing the final song from Tick, Tick… Boom! as he still has a bright future ahead of him.