Review from filmmaker Lillian Parker, aka musician Ukelilli.
* * *
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: biopics — not my favorite genre. That being said, sex & drugs & rock & roll (directed by Mat Whitecross, written by Paul Viragh), the new biopic of Ian Dury that’s currently part the Tribeca Film Festival, was pretty awesome.
Dury was a British punk star best known as lead singer of The Blockheads. Polio, contracted at the age of seven, left him with a weak arm and leg, but despite the social stigma that came with it, Dury became a master showman.
Ian Dury is played by Andy Serkis, who is amazing, as always. We all know Serkis as Gollum and King Kong from Peter Jackson’s movies, and his physical acting skills that were so important in those are again perfect in this movie. The first few scenes we really get more of just his face and it is so full of personality. Then the more we see of him, the more we see his limp, and how he deals with his leg, and how he carries himself, he does it all so naturally it doesn’t seem like he’s acting. He also sings all of the songs so well and is just plain a great actor!
Back to my partiality against biopics, I feel like punk music/musicians have decent biopics because the people who make them (either write them, direct them, or both) really care about the person they’re telling us about. They weren’t put together by a studio who knew that they could make back 100 million dollars on this, so they don’t have to make cuts and changes to pander to a bigger audience.
So the filmmakers care, always a good thing. But at the same time, if they are huge fans they may overly objectify the person they’re making a movie about, which leads to many of my dislikes of the biopic, and unfortunately some of this happens in this film. Oversimplification of break-ups/arguments/other life changes, for example showing him rehearsing with the band in his living room as his wife (Olivia Williams) gives birth in their bedroom. Some might say that was great juxtaposition, I felt like it was too showy and yet at the same time, not showy enough. He and his wife had a strong and happy relationship even after they separated, and I’m not sure if they really gave me enough information to make that seem realistic. Another major biopic flaw is adding tension through fights or what have you where, even if it was true, it might not have been significant. Dury and his second partner, Denise (who was such a cliché character I have no idea whether or not she existed or was made up by the filmmakers) have tons of meaningless fights which I feel like are only there to create “tension.” Also, always with the trying to fit in all the significant information, we end up seeing his first wife get in a car accident, even though that’s hardly relevant to Dury’s life when it happens.
This movie does, however, have a set up which makes some of that stuff okay. They set it up as a live Ian Dury show. Dury comes out on stage at the beginning and starts telling us stories with the band playing behind him and it cuts away to show us, then cuts back to his performance whenever it needs to move to a different time or place. Using this technique, it can cut back to his childhood polio trauma, to his bizarre relationship with his father, to his son growing up, all without seeming too textbooky (which is another thing I usually have biopic issues with).
The film also has a couple of crazy animation sequences (the best of which might be the opening credits) which add major uniqueness and personality to it.
All in all this was a great movie that I would definitely recommend and might even make into my top 10 of the year. It was about an interesting man who was portrayed by a fabulous actor, and even making it a biopic didn’t screw that up.
* * *
sex & drugs & rock & roll can be found online and in the flesh a number of ways through the Tribeca Film Festival, including on demand.