Stardust is a very interesting Bowie biopic that falls short in some areas, especially musically.
Stardust was doomed from the start. It was announced long before release that this David Bowie biopic would not use any Bowie music, after not being granted rights by his family. Worse yet, the trailer released at the end of October was very poorly received, most uploads of it feature more dislikes than likes, with many declaring they would not watch it for various reasons. So, is it really that bad?
In short, no. Stardust follows David Bowie (Johnny Flynn) as he transition into his new persona of Ziggy Stardust, detailing his attempts to make it big in America and come to terms with deeper familial issues. This is all compounded by the unpopularity of his 1970 album ‘The Man who Sold the World’, compared to his previous self-titled release. One of the key concerns about the film to any fan is Johnny Flynn’s portrayal of Bowie, which is quite frankly as good as it could be. I would dread being given the job of finding an actor to pretend to be Bowie, but Flynn is passable from a distance and the accent, as well as his mannerisms are good. Although Flynn does sound a little more like Mick Jagger than, it’s definitely better Rami Malek’s impression Freddie Mercury, which had the appearance of an expensive Halloween costume.
The story itself is decent if not a little undercooked, developing somewhat unevenly with it mostly being packed towards its conclusion. The film’s content is a likely explanation as to why it didn’t get the approval of Bowie’s estate due to how it deals with deeply personal issues within his family (especially how it paints his first wife Angela in a particular negative light). However, this lack of approval would not be an issue if it wasn’t for the major problem of making a rock star biopic without their music, which Stardust now has to juggle. There are various examples where this is apparent (particularly towards the end where Bowie performs as Ziggy Stardust), but I’m unsure if it was ever the plan to use Bowie’s music in the first place, as some sections feel audibly quite empty. Oddly enough in a scene where they discuss the lyrics to ‘The Man who Sold the World’ they seem to misquote the lyrics, so I wonder if this is a legal issue too. Regardless, an unofficial cut featuring Bowie’s music would be a welcome addition, if not a much needed one.
That being said, the cinematography is pleasantly surprising for what is a low budget film – the airport where Bowie arrives in America at the start has a 1970s aesthetic within its camerawork that works rather well. In addition, a painstaking amount has been detail has been put into the costumes so that they match their original designs; when Bowie visits Andy Warhol at point, he’s wearing the exact clothing as he did in real life which is a nice touch. It’s also worth praising that Stardust does attempt at bringing some nuance into Bowie’s characterisation, but it’s by no means a film that’s meant to elevate his status any further. Bowie is presented very much as polite but self-centre, and with an addictive personality unwilling to help the only man who wants to help him in America – the former of which causes this rift between him and the representative at Mercury. By the end he is somewhat redeemed, and his narcissistic attitude is explained and stripped back.
But in the end, Stardust is unlikely to be the film that Bowie aficionados would’ve wanted, the factual accuracy is more than certain to be under scrutiny and the complete lack of his rich back catalogue is a massive killer. The plot and acting, however, are surprisingly good as it manages to put Bowie’s various personalities in an entirely new perspective, but how deeply personal this story is does bring up questions over whether it should really be put to film, especially without his estate’s approval. Regardless, it’s nowhere near as bad as a lot of people thought it would, but it’s by no means excellent.
Stardust, directed by Gabriel Range, is distributed in the UK via Vertigo Releasing, and is set to be released before the end of 2020. Certificate TBA.