How does this baffling footage insult the memory of one of the world's greatest musical legends? Let us count the ways...
Look, it’s commonly said that one should never judge a book by its cover, but… seriously… how did… what is… can somebody please just explain the trailer for this new David Bowie film Stardust?
The prospect of a David Bowie movie was always bound to be a worrisome affair, of course. Some artists are simply so individual and so iconic that hiring another person to imitate them for two hours is never going to ring true. There's a reason that when Todd Haynes decided he wanted to make a film about Bob Dylan, he cast six different actors in the role (and even then none of them were actually playing a person called “Bob Dylan”).
Although it's wrong to assume a movie’s overall quality based on a two-minute trailer, it’s hard to imagine that the footage we’re seeing here could be part of an actually good movie. This film feels like David Bowie in zero ways. None of what made Bowie Bowie is captured in – let's just be honest with ourselves – what is an obvious attempt to cash in on the success of Bohemian Rhapsody. Just another broadly drawn, cookie cutter biopic, following the usual beats, the same repurposed lines of dialogue. It's the exact opposite of what Bowie stood and stands for, an insult to the memory of a true musical legend (you will notice I have taken all this very personally).
Here are the most disturbing things to be acknowledged in the new trailer for Stardust…
1. Johnny Flynn as David Bowie
Some people like Johnny Flynn. I've never been quite confident of his ability as an actor. Each to their own. But what he’s doing here – what is he doing? – seems light years away from anything that evokes even the slightest sense of “David Bowie.” Is this one of those odd occasions where the actor makes an artistic choice beforehand to not act like the person they're supposed be playing? And it goes without saying, but he doesn't actually look like David Bowie at all. Not a bit. Even when he's dressed up like him, in all the classic outfits. This frankly makes even Alden Ehrenreich's performance as Harrison Ford as Han Solo seem like an act of inspired imitation.
2. Johnny Flynn's Bowie Accent
Is Flynn actually trying to sound like David Bowie? He's not even trying, is he? At first you might be tempted to give the accent the benefit of the doubt, assuming Bowie's distinctive voice was something that came later, as is so often the case. But listen to the clip above of Bowie speaking during a radio interview in 1971, when this film happens to be set. He still sounds just like the David Bowie we know and love, right? I'm not sure what it is that Flynn is going for here, but he essentially sounds like Johnny Flynn, but if Johnny Flynn was uncomfortable doing his own accent?
3. Marc Maron's Lack of Facial Hair
I don't know about you, but when I know Marc Maron's going to be in something, I expect to see him with a healthy amount of hair on his face. Seeing him here, completely shaved, cast as Bowie's US publicist Ron Oberman, did I mention completely shaved, is off-putting to the point where you're not sure if it's actually Maron. This might seem like a petty point, all things considered, but this is disturbing in its own way, just further proof that something about about this particular universe is totally out of sync with reality.
4. The Hammy Dialogue
“Be someone else,” Oberman tells Bowie. Get it? That whole David Bowie thing isn't working. So he should be someone else. But surely he isn't going to take that comment so literally? Is he? That would be a bizarre way to interpret a random, passing comment. Later, we get: “Rock star or somebody impersonating a rock star… what's the difference?” This line upsets me greatly, because you just know it's destined to be taken up on social media by the Marilyn Monroe “If you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best” crowd.
5. Copy and Paste
Everything about this movie, we've seen before. Bohemian Rhapsody, yes, but also the more recent Elton John biopic Rocketman. This movie clearly wants to ride on the coattails of their success, but has basically reprised the same moments again. There's the obligatory scene where people sit in a room and tell the artist that nobody's interested in their work. The on-going relationship between a quirky artist and his mentor, the only person who can see him for what he “really is.” The bit where the artist goes against the advise of their mentor on a live medium to hilarious affect. It's all so obvious-looking and uninspired, like Musical Biopic: The Greatest Hits.
6. Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink
This is the most awful and obvious approach that any biopic can take, where the script relies entirely on the idea that we, the audience, know things that the characters in the movie don't. From the obligatory scene where a music exec tells Bowie he'll never be famous if he keeps acting so weird (ha ha but he will be so famous!), to the bit at the airport where Bowie's asked his name and he says, “David Bowie.” I will bet you one thousand pounds that the security guard says something sarcastic or dismissive after he says this. Real life doesn't feel like this, though, conversations imbued with a cosmic self-awareness suggesting their preordained significance.
7. It Looks So Bland
“Bland” is not a word you would associate with David Bowie. But this trailer shows a film that looks entirely bog-standard in its visual look, with dull-looking interiors and a certain TV movie/sitcom quality. Movies with far lower budgets than this one have managed to achieve far better and more creative results, but Stardust seems content to do the bare minimum.
8. Bad Dream Sequences
This film is going to have trippy space sequences, because David Bowie liked space. Popping a helmet on Johnny Flynn is apparently the best way to convey this.
9. Historical Inaccuracies
Nobody expects any movie, even those based on a true stories, to be historically accurate down to the very last detail. But it seems like a bit of a stretch when you realise that the 59-year-old Marc Maron is playing the then 27-year-old Ron Oberman, don't you think? Or that the movie invents the entire road trip shared between these two characters that provides the film's entire narrative thrust?
10. The Wigs
All bad. Not a single good wig in sight.
11. No Bowie Songs
This is arguably the biggest and most justifiable reason as to why this film should not exist. Because Stardust will feature absolutely no songs written by the great man himself, since the film was made without the permission of his estate (Bowie famously hated the idea of a movie about himself, also). Now, it's rarely the case that biopics are better when they've been “approved,” but when you're making a film about a musician, you kind of need the music. Bohemian Rhapsody, bad as it was, at least had the songs to its advantage. “But!” you cry, “wasn't there that Morrissey film made without his songs?” Yes, and you have no idea what it's called, do you?
12. It's Actually Called Stardust
We already have a Stardust! It stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro and it's a brilliant little gem. You can't just barge in here, New Stardust, confident that your movie can repurpose the title like nobody is going to notice. Little do you realise, you have only cemented the legacy of Old Stardust further. Maybe that's the one good thing that will come out of this.
Stardust hits cinemas and streaming platforms on November 25.