By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)
The fact that the Bowie estate disavowed this movie and did not allow the use of David Bowie’s music was definitely a bad sign from the get-go. Nevertheless, the Austin Film Festival, a movie fest which celebrates and whole-heartedly supports the role of writing in filmmaking, chose this film as the closer. After watching the film, this choice definitely left me bewildered. While the screenplay wasn’t particularly horrendous, I still found it rather dull and uninspiring.
And that is a huge shame, given the magnitude, given the impact David Bowie had and still has on music and musical artists. The movie is intended to portray a key time in Bowie’s life and career where he is trying to reveal himself to the world, but is personally struggling with who he is and his discomfort with that identity. The intention was obviously a deep, introspective character study with a moment of metamorphosis. At the beginning of the film, the shy, reserved David Jones/Bowie (Johnny Flynn) is in a chrysalis stage of life, only to eventually emerge as the beautiful butterfly we all know and love as David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust.
While that is a great idea for movie, writer/director Gabriel Range and co-writer Christopher Bell take a truly dynamic and talented person and fail to portray him as a completely compelling character. The development of Bowie in the movie follow a lot of the familiar artist biopic tropes and never gives him a voice of his own. That is not to say that the movie is all bad. The story follows Bowie and his publicist Ron Oberman (Marc Maron) as they embark on the artist’s first United States tour. The road trip aspect of the story is probably the most endearing and entertaining part of the film. This, at least, kept me moderately entertained.
As David Bowie, Johnny Flynn looks a little like a young version of the artist, and imbues the character with a shy, but sly wit and charm. I certainly saw shades of talent and potential that were unfortunately restrained and, thusly, squandered for this movie. Marc Maron perfectly portrays the frustrated and befuddled publicist Ron Oberman, but seriously belongs in a better Bowie picture. As Angie Bowie, Jena Malone does her best, but it is her character that suffers the most from the writing, as she is portrayed as the cliche wife of a star who is unhappy with her marriage and stuck back home.
And it is the cliches and tropes that do this movie in and do David Bowie a great disservice. David Bowie was an artist that often defied conventions and expectations. He was a unique artist and individual. Stardust, while it has its minimal charms, simply isn’t a unique and unconventional biopic. It is mediocre at best, and that is something Bowie was not.