Over the rainbow: Music biopics to watch and avoid
Judy has come and gone, and we’re pretty sure they whitewashed the studio’s role in the actress’s addiction and troubles. But here’s a look back at some other biopics you oughtta check out.
The first look at Renée Zellweger (Bridget Jones’s Diary) as the late, great Judy Garland is pretty damn uncanny. The actress has ditched the massive panties for a black bob & a mic, looking every part the infamous “Miss Show Business”.
Backed by Pathé, BBC Films, and Ingenious Media, Judy will chart the story of Hollywood icon Garland’s final concerts in London. Zellweger is set to star alongside Jessie Buckley (War & Peace), Finn Wittrock (American Horror Story), Michael Gambon (The King’s Speech), Rufus Sewell (The Man in the High Castle), and Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones).
So if you’re a Garland fan, be sure to keep an eye out for its release. While you’re waiting, here some of the best biopics about singers & musicians to watch in the interim (as well as a collection of the ones you should avoid at all costs).
Watch: Funny Girl (1968)
In this musical-comedy-drama film by director William Wyler (Ben-Hur), Barbra Streisand (The Way We Were) absolutely nails it in her debut role as the singer-comedian Fanny Brice, so much so that it even won her an Academy Award. Streisand depicts Brice’s rise to fame as a Ziegfeld girl, her subsequent career, and her stormy relationship with entrepreneur & gambler Nicky Arnstein.
Avoid: Meatloaf: To Hell and Back (2000)
Watching this biopic tragedy is a bit like going to hell and back. LOL but for all the wrong reasons, W. Earl Brown (There’s Something About Mary) was far too meek for the Meaty lead role, the film had a below average budget, and according to one disappointed fan, the music was simply an “afterthought”.
Watch: The Karen Carpenter Story (1989)
This biopic offers an insight into the most rock ‘n’ roll band that made the least rock ‘n’ roll music. From Quaalude addiction to destructive mental health issues to fatal anorexia, you’d be forgiven for thinking this doc was actually chronicling the rise and fall of a ‘77 punk band. But in fact, it’s actually the traumatic tale of the musicians behind every grandparent’s favorite soundtrack – The Carpenters.
Avoid: The Runaways (2010)
Somehow both Kristen Stewart (American Ultra) & Dakota Fanning (War of the Worlds) manage to equally disappoint as The Runaways musicians Joan Jett & Cherie Currie, respectively. Despite the fact Jett was an executive producer on this retelling of the band’s rise and fall, the tiresome performances transformed the entire film into some sort of karaoke night. As Rolling Stone put it, “The result was not a ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb so much as a plain old bomb.”
Watch: Love & Mercy (2014)
Set in the 60s, this Beach Boys biopic by Bill Pohlad (12 Years a Slave) gives a truly honest depiction of the unique genius of singer & songwriter Brian Wilson and his creation of the iconic musical feat, Pet Sounds. The narrative shows how Wilson’s talent comes at a cost, following his inner torment as he struggles with psychosis.
Viewers are left in awe at Wilson’s genius, but also anger over the exploitative damage caused by Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) and the stifling interference from who is often referred to as “one of the biggest a**holes in music history” – Mike Love (Jake Abel).
Avoid: Lennon Naked (2010)
This awkward biopic stars Christopher Eccleston (Thor: The Dark World) as the beloved John Lennon, focusing on his life during the end of The Beatles and the beginning of his relationship with Yoko Ono.
Unfortunately, Eccleston just doesn’t deliver any of Lennon’s charm to the screen and the film was received poorly, with one reviewer writing, “Minus any demonstration of his importance . . . we are left just with a portrait of a rich and prickly young man.”
Watch: Control (2007)
Chronicling the rise and fall (and eventual suicide) of tortured singer Ian Curtis, there simply aren’t enough words to describe how brilliant Sam Riley (On the Road) is as the Joy Division frontman. Not only did he present the torment of his personal life well, but he actually sang the songs for the movie, impersonating Curtis’s wailing vocals and flailing dance moves with utter perfection. 10/10!
Avoid: Last Days (2005)
While we’re huge advocates of Gus Van Sant (Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot) and nearly everything he does (nearly), this film inspired by the final days of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain just didn’t quite hit the mark.
It seemed to use the “inspired” excuse to avoid any real insight into the life of the late singer, instead offering a sort of experimentational arthouse flick. Which would’ve been okay had Van Sant not taken influence from Cobain for the subject matter.