Starring: Johnny Flynn, Marc Maron, Jena Malone, Derek Moran
Not quite the disaster forewarned, but David Bowie deserves better than this glum biopic/road movie that charts the pre-Ziggy artist’s first trip to the USA in 1971.
It begins promisingly enough with a trippy sequence featuring a disorientated Bowie (Flynn) kitted up in a Major Tom/2001-style spacesuit, but quickly falls to Earth with a meeting at his record company office (with a mean-spirited and unconvincing cameo from a pudgy and preening Marc Bolan) in which the singer’s upcoming tour is discussed, unenthusiastically.
When Bowie does arrive in Washington DC the lack of a requisite visa means he is prevented from performing at proper gigs. Nevertheless optimistic-against-the-odds record company publicist Ron Oberman (Maron), books the singer a series of interviews with the rock press, while organising some illicit small gigs, one it turns out at a particularly grim vacuum cleaner sales convention. The interviews turn out awkward affairs with the nervy Bowie turning off journalists with his faux-Wildean musings.
Flynn certainly has his work cut out playing an artist so indelibly marked in public memory. Despite being twelve years older than the singer was at the time (to be fair everyone in this picture looks way too old for their characters), he does a pretty good job of conveying the nascent Starman’s youthful combination of pretention, hesitancy and raw ambition. In a certain light (and thanks to extensive dieting regime) Flynn even manages to resemble the willowy artist, and the wide-brimmed hat and high-waisted, wide leg trousers combo is very much A Look. Jenna Malone is divinely decadent as Angie Bowie but disappointingly underused, while Maron supplies some much-needed energy to proceedings, his gruff and dogged Oberman not miles removed from his role as Sam the no-nonsense manager in Netflix’s ‘Glow’. That energy is much-missed in the latter meandering UK-set part of the film which explores Bowie’s relationship with his schizophrenic half-brother Terry (Moran), and the singer’s concerns about his own mental health.
The brown-hued colour scheme, while effectively evoking 70s drabness ultimately becomes oppressive and the absence of original Bowie songs is a major hindrance – the makers attempt to get around this by including songs he famously covered, ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘I Wish You Would’. Due presumably to budget restraints the film also eschews recreating such famous incidents such as Bowie’s reportedly disastrous meeting with Andy Warhol, but tantalisingly (and annoyingly) has the singer relating the encounter in retrospect.
Stardust is available to stream from 15th January
Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm