Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
It is 1971 and David Bowie (Johnny Flynn) is traveling to the United States for the first time. He is a virtual unknown and hoping to gain some traction despite his latest record flopping. It is on this journey that Bowie will be inspired to become Ziggy Stardust.
While I admire Co-Writer/Director Gabriel Range boldly opening Stardust with the rather innocuous phrase “What follows is [mostly] fiction” (alongside an all-too brief homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey), it still does not quite prepare for what a disappointment the Film is. Instead of being an outrageous, extraordinary and psychedelic vision of an Artist discovering his true self, it ends up being just another run-of-the-mill, ordinary road movie. There is nothing special on display and it contains barely even a hint of the unique brilliance Bowie was responsible for. The insights into who he was are minimal, and anything the Film does make note of feels surface level at best. Worse, it does not feature any music from the legendary artist, resorting multiple times to having Flynn do his best Bowie impression as he sings someone else’s tunes. I can only imagine the frustration and anger that diehard devotees will feel if they try watching this.
All of that said, I was never bored watching Stardust. It kept my attention at all times, and Range does a great job keeping the Film from losing any of its momentum. He also excels at masking Hamilton, Toronto and the surrounding areas as they stand-in for 1970s era UK and US locations. The Film could have used a splash or three of colour, but its drab, hazy settings still manage to look as sharp as they should. Jena Malone, Derek Moran and especially Marc Maron all do well in their supporting roles. I wish Malone and Moran had a bit of heavier lifting to do, but they both make an impression on the Film. Maron shrugs his shoulder and says “man” a few too many times, but he seems very much in his element. He has a special knack for grounding every scene and has a blast delivering the Film’s best lines.
As good as those performers are, they are overshadowed by Flynn’s portrayal of Bowie. No one has the time or patience to accurately capture all of the nuances he had, but Flynn gives it his all anyway with a portrayal that is compelling and contemplative. He digs as deep as he can here, taking hold of the screen as often as possible and demanding attention every time he sings. He is not perfect in the role, and I wish Range gave him more space to really hone-in on who Bowie is. That said, it is a worthwhile performance that proves what future greatness this budding Thespian has in store for the future.
Stardust is not a bad film, but it is not particularly enjoyable either. The Cast is good and the Film moves at a decent pace, but oddly feels devoid of anything particularly unique or extraordinary despite being centred on such a larger than life icon. So I have to ask: if you could not lease any Bowie music, why bother making a film about Bowie?
Elevation Pictures release STARDUST in select theatres, Digital and On-Demand on Friday, November 27, 2020.
*Please ensure you exercise caution in observing COVID-19 protocols if seeing this in-theatre.*