- Directed by Gabriel Range
- Written by Gabriel Range and Christopher Bell
- Starring Johnny Flynn, Marc Maron and Jena Malone
- Classification 14A; 109 minutes
To get in the film-reviewing mood, I require only two things: comfortable pants and, when possible, the soundtrack or score of the movie I’m critiquing. So although I’m writing this review of the new David Bowie biopic Stardust in my crusty Roots sweatpants (which I’ve seen far too much of this pandemic), I’m cheating myself by listening to the entirety of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Because while Stardust covers the period of Bowie’s life just before he released his breakthrough 1972 album, the film doesn’t feature a single track from the record. Or any Bowie music at all.
This is due to a rights issue, with the Bowie estate refusing to endorse the film. And while director Gabriel Range tries to overcome this huge hurdle by having Bowie (Johnny Flynn) perform cover songs (The Yardbirds’ I Wish You Would), a rock-star biopic without the music of said rock star ends up being a pointless exercise. We can only hear so many other characters – from Bowie’s then-wife Angie (Jena Malone) to his U.S. publicist (Marc Maron) – extoll the virtues of Bowie’s musical genius without requiring actual sonic evidence.
Maybe this musical deficit would have worked if Range and his co-writer Christopher Bell crafted some sort of fantabulous melodrama that mirrored Bowie’s outre Ziggy Stardust persona. But instead, we’re left with a glum and no-frills look at a creatively stymied rocker at loose ends during a trip to the finer parking garages, anonymous hallways and apartment-building rooftops of America (in reality a poorly disguised Hamilton).
Flynn seems perpetually at odds with Range’s conception of Bowie, alternately playing him as a sullen brat or a rakish prankster, but always with a significant deficit of charm. Malone, missing from most of the movie, isn’t given much of anything to do as the in-reality extraordinarily interesting figure of Angie, except to stare daggers at her husband. Only Maron, riffing off the sleazebag-mentor shtick he’s mastered on Netflix’s Glow, jolts the story alive.
But if you’re curious: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars still rocks.
Stardust opens in select Canadian theatres and is available digitally on-demand starting Nov. 27
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