Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir Gabriel Range
scr Christopher Bell, Gabriel Range
prd Paul Van Carter, Nick Taussig, Matt Code
with Johnny Flynn, Jena Malone, Marc Maron, Derek Moran, Anthony Flanagan, Julian Richings, Aaron Poole, Monica Parker, Ryan Blakely, Gord Rand, Paulino Nunes, Richard Clarkin
release US Oct.20 sdiff,
UK Nov.20 rff
20/UK 1h49

flynn malone moran
raindance film fest

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flynn and maron
There's a loose, scruffy charm to this biopic about a pivotal moment in David Bowie's life. Shot 1970s-style, and emphasising how tricky it is for a flashy British artist to make it in the United States, the film is likeable and witty, with lively characters and terrific attention to detail. Filmmaker Gabriel Range gets too ambitious with story structure, but this is an involving movie that has a strong impact.
After finding success in Britain, 24-year-old David (Flynn) takes his first trip to America in 1971, discovering a nation that isn't ready for his androgynous style. For this solo tour, the label provides tenacious manager Ron (Maron). But because the record is under-selling, they slash the tour budget. And Ron has to call David out on his over-inflated ego. Humbled, he eventually admits he's unable to make sense of his identity. Ron replies, "If you can't see yourself, be someone else." So back in London he begins to create an on-stage alter ego, Ziggy Stardust.
Opening with a 2001: A Space Odyssey pastiche, the film immediately plunges into David's messy encounter at the immigration desk, awkwardly crosscut with earlier scenes in London with free-loving wife Angie (Malone) and mentally ill brother Terry (Moran). This jarring structure continues, filling in important elements of the back-story as well as adding telling detail, but the way it's assembled prevents the narrative from building a head of steam. Still, it's beautifully filmed, with a strong evocation of the period and multi-layered performances.

Flynn is careful to avoid doing an impersonation, but there are moments when the resemblance is uncanny. He nicely captures this immensely creative artist struggling to contextualise himself in another culture. It's also a skilful depiction of a young man who is confident in his talent but easily distracted. So as he begins to open up to people around him, he has a series of epiphanies. There's also some nicely textured camaraderie between Flynn and both Maron and Moran. But Malone's role is fairly thankless.

As a story of a young artist finding his voice, this film is packed with fascinating observations, often underscored with powerful emotions. But as a biography of David Bowie, it feels oddly tentative, partly because it's been so deliberately fictionalised but mainly because the filmmakers are unable to use the songs (Flynn's voice is terrific performing other material). And of course without that music, it's impossible to actually depict Bowie in a meaningful way.

cert 15 themes, language, drugs 6.Nov.20 rff

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall