Musicals are divisive by nature, but they can hit a sweet spot with awards voters with the right cast and crew. Andrew Garfield leads the charge on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut, “Tick, Tick … Boom!” With tender vocals and a heartfelt vulnerability, Garfield could emerge as a definitive challenger to the best actor prize that has seemed preordained to Will Smith for “King Richard.” If achieved, Garfield would be the first leading actor from a musical to win in over 55 years.
Garfield’s Jonathan Larson is sensitively constructed and harmoniously executed through his sweet arrangements and vocal inflections, especially in the songs “Why” and “Sunday.” Either of those two are likely his “Oscar clip” (which will hopefully be reintroduced back into the ceremony).
Providing a palpable balance and an emotional anchor to the story is Tony nominee Robin de Jesús as Jonathan’s best friend and roommate Michael. The Latino breakout star could ride a guiding wave into the supporting actor category if the film’s magic is received warmly.
When it comes to the women, particularly Vanessa Hudgens and Alexandra Shipp (who delivers another decisive turn in George Clooney’s “The Tender Bar”), they each seem one scene short of landing a slam dunk nomination for supporting actress. Hudgens, as the musical actress Karessa, has two pivotal moments that make her a worthy entry. Her take on “Therapy,” which she shares with Garfield, feels comparable to “We Both Reached for the Gun” from “Chicago” (2002), with its playful humor and catchy tune. However, the pivotal number “Come to Your Senses,” which the whole movie builds towards, differs from the stage production sung. As I was sitting, you could see the bones of an Oscar clip if done differently.
“Tick, Tick … Boom!” is also emerging as a top contender for the cast ensemble prize at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. But, again, it could be a no-brainer for inclusion with theater and television actors such as a hilarious Judith Light, a songbird like Joshua Henry and a stoic Bradley Whitford as Stephen Sondheim.
Miranda’s direction and artisan assembly are remarkable. With a feel of a 90’s home movie, thanks to another bombastic outing by cinematographer Alice Brooks (please, Academy, recognize this woman), the directing branch could be enamored with his detailed eye. As we’ve seen with many first-time feature film directors like Bradley Cooper, Regina King and others, they are a very fickle group and love to make people “wait for their turns.” However, the DGA first-time director category could have its first solidified frontrunner.
So, can Garfield, once nominated for his turn as a conscientious objector in “Hacksaw Ridge” (2016), make his way to the Oscar podium?
Netflix has a barrage of awards hopefuls this season, especially in lead actor including Benedict Cumberbatch from “The Power of the Dog,” Jonathan Majors from “The Harder They Fall” and an unseen entity in Leonardo DiCaprio from “Don’t Look Up.” The playbook for Garfield could follow Eddie Redmayne’s winning run for his turn as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” (2014). That year, Redmayne sat comfortably through the awards season as an excellent secondary option to presumed frontrunner Michael Keaton (“Birdman”). Pundits and journalists wrote Redmayne off due to his age, relative newcomer status in the awards space and the fact that Keaton was coming in with an impressive body of work that led to his first nomination. It also didn’t hurt that his film was also heavily contending for the best picture prize, which Redmayne’s film was not.
Fast forward to the evening of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Redmayne pulled off a stunning upset over Keaton for male actor in a leading role, creating what I like to call “the turn” that the SAG awards have typically done for late-coming acting winners (i.e., Jean Dujardin for “The Artist” and Sean Penn for “Milk”). Going into the SAG Awards, the Golden Globes, which splits its film categories into two genres, had awarded Redmayne with best actor in a drama while Keaton took best actor in a comedy. The pundits didn’t think anything of it. It was expected. Once SAG came around, and Redmayne nabbed the home-field advantage at the BAFTA Awards, there was no stopping him on Oscar night. Garfield could pull somewhat of a reverse of this, possibly turning it around for himself at the SAG and/or BAFTA Awards. He does face some historical hurdles.
The last lead actor performance to win an Oscar for a musical was Rex Harrison’s turn as Professor Henry Higgins in the best picture winner “My Fair Lady” (1964). The last man to win any acting category for a musical performance was Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies in “Cabaret” (1972). The last two that have been nominated — Johnny Depp (“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”) and Hugh Jackman (“Les Misérables”) — both didn’t come close despite their Globe wins. Coincidentally, both of them lost to a winning Daniel Day-Lewis performance (“There Will Be Blood” and “Lincoln”). It should also be noted that Garfield is also campaigning for supporting actor for his turn opposite Jessica Chastain for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” which could siphon some votes.
“Tick, Tick … Boom!” is distributed by Netflix and will open in theaters on Nov. 12 before releasing on the streaming platform on Nov. 19.