“A rock star, or somebody impersonating a rock star: what’s the difference? “Johnny Flynn as almost- Bowie
So says David Bowie, or rather Johnny Flynn in his role as (kind of) the late icon in Gabriel Range’s film from 2020. This line seems to be an in -joke,or even some kind of justification. This film is baaaad. It’s not cringey, watch -through -fingers, campy bad, it’s simply lazy bad.
Flynn portrays a semi-fictionalised Bowie as he tries to crack the ass crack towns in the United States in 1971 in troubadour mode, before transforming into Ziggy, and the runaway success he’d dreamed of. Problem is, he’s prone to obsessing that he’s on the schizophrenic spectrum like his half -brother Terry Burns (Derek Moran) and so, he subsequently sets about attending a series of press junkets, where he can’t help but self-sabotage. His well-meaning publicist Ron Oberman (Marc Maron) is quietly despairing, and his relationship with wife Angie (Jena Malone) is becoming increasingly fractious.
All of which would be fine, but even with serviceable performances from all three -despite Flynn’s voice occasionally lapsing into Jemaine Clement doing ‘Bowie’s In Space’,- the film is curiously flat, uninspired, and comes on like a Wikipedia entry. There’s no cliche unaired (Cocaine! Girls! Cars! Horrible journos! Abandoned, tetchy pregnant wife at home!) no real fresh insight, and sadly, no actual Bowie material (Bowie’s estate refused to licence any of it, and -ahem!- little wonder).
Jemaine Clement as a dream Bowie in Flight Of The Conchords
Instead, there’s Brel covers and many near -misses, as Bowie wanders around the peripheries, trying to figure out who he “should be”, hiding behind outrageous outfits and “shock tactics” (as apt a metaphor for this inert film as you could hope to find, really). You find yourself waiting for something to ignite, but to no avail.
It’s a static, ho-hum mess alright, and Flynn looks more like a young Dave Gilmour with his hair long, than the young superstar-in-waiting. Not the film Bowie deserved, nor his fans. No satin, just tat.