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FilmSoc Reviews: Stardust

Posted by FilmSoc on Sun, 31-01-2021

By Eóin McCambridge

Stardust is the new David Bowie biopic detailing a failed US tour of the singer songwriter extraordinaire from director Gabriel Range. Stardust was mired in controversy before the film ever even saw the light of day, with Bowies own son (and filmmaker) Duncan Jones publicly coming out against the film and refusing to grant permission to the film makers to use his father's music. Yes, the David Bowie biopic doesn't have any David Bowie music in it. It constantly being the elephant in the room that no one really wants to address. Scenes see Bowie break out into live performances of Slumberland Blues or guitar covers of My Death and Port of Amsterdam, but its missing that touch of authenticity that comes with knowing you’re hearing a Bowie original.

We are greeted by a sequence straight out of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey as Bowie, played here by Johnny Flynn of Netflix’s Love Sick, arrives in Seattle in 1971 as he hopes to promote his new album The Man Who Sold The World. This in an America where simply 'no one knows how to sell him' (an actual line by the way). His one hope? Mercury Studios publicist Ron Oberman played here by Marc Maron in a rather solid performance. The bulk of the film consists of Bowie and Oberman on a US road trip promoting the new album to disastrous results.  On the Rami Malek scale of true to life rock star performances Johnny Flynn doesn’t present Bowie in any riveting way, instead falling into the category of poor imitation. At one point we even see Flynn’s Bowie character break out into mime for some reason. I don’t know why either. 

As you would imagine, the time inevitably comes for the split in this 'buddy road trip’ dynamic, and it plays out as contrived as you can imagine, seemingly with no impact on the rest of the film.  A subplot sees Bowie explore his early years struggling with his brother’s mental deterioration, one that produces a fairly abysmal take on mental health. The film is even so daring as to comment on the ambiguous nature of Bowies own sexuality although this is mostly relegated to one brief scene played for laughs. What is arguably the films biggest problem though is that it takes multiple times in Bowies life (his brothers first problems with mental health, this tour in 1971) and seem to say ‘this is how the Ziggy Stardust character was created’ without actually providing a compelling or believable enough through line to justify this claim. Yeah, I’m not going to recommend anyone go out of their way to see this one. 

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