Review: ‘DC League of Super-Pets,’ starring the voices of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart

July 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Merton (voiced by Natasha Lyonne), PB (voiced by Vanessa Bayer), Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), Chip (voiced by Diego Luna) and Ace (voiced by Kevin Hart) in “DC League of Super-Pets” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“DC League of Super-Pets”

Directed by Jared Stern; co-directed by Sam Levine

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the fictional city of Metropolis, the animated film “DC League of Super-Pets” features a racially diverse cast (white, black, Asian and Latino) portraying talking animals, superheroes and citizens of Metropolis.

Culture Clash: Inspired by DC Comics characters, “DC League of Super-Pets” features a group of domesticated pets, including Superman’s dog Krypto, fighting crime and trying to save the world from an evil guinea pig that is loyal to supervillain Lex Luthor.

Culture Audience: “DC League of Super-Pets” will appeal primarily to fans of DC Comics, the movie’s cast members and adventure-filled animated movies centered on talking animals.

Lulu (voiced by Kate McKinnon) in “DC League of Super-Pets” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Even though “DC League of Super-Pets” sometimes gets cluttered with subplots and characters, this animated film is a treat that has a winning combination of pets and superheroes. There’s plenty to like for people of many ages. In addition to the appeal of having familiar characters from DC Comics, “DC League of Super-Pets” is a well-cast film for its voice actors, because the cast members bring their own unique flairs to the characters. It’s helpful but not necessary to have knowledge of DC Comics characters before watching this movie.

Directed by Jared Stern and co-directed by Sam Levine, “DC League of Super-Pets” makes good use of mixing zany comedy, engaging action and some heartwarming and touching moments. Stern makes his feature-film directorial debut with “DC League of Super-Pets,” which he co-wrote with John Whittington. Stern and Whittington also co-wrote 2017’s “The Lego Batman Movie.” Where “DC League of Super-Pets” falters is when it tries to cram in certain plot developments to the point where “DC League of Super-Pets” comes dangerously close to biting off more than it can chew. (No pun intended.)

If you have no interest in watching an animated movie about pets and would-be pets of superheroes, then “DC League of Super-Pets” probably is not for you. The world already has more than enough animated films about talking animals. However, “DC League of Super-Pets” mostly succeeds at being entertaining when putting comic book characters in a predictable but dependable story of a group of misfits that become friends while trying to save the world.

“DC League of Super-Pets” begins by showing how Superman (whose birth name is Kal-El) ended up with his loyal Labrador Retriever dog Krypto. Kal-El was born on the planet Krypton. When he was a baby, Krypton went under attack, so his parents put Kal-El on a spaceship alone and sent him to Earth for his safety. Kal-El’s parents Jor-El (voiced by Alfred Molina) and Lara (voiced by Lena Headey) say their emotional goodbye to Kal-El.

Jor-El says, “Krypton is about to die.” Lara adds, “But you, dear son, will live on.” Suddenly, the family’s Labrador Retriever puppy jumps on the spaceship with Kal-El. At first, Jor-El wants to try to get the dog back, but the space ship has already been set in motion. Lara tells Jor-El: “Our boy will need a friend.” Jor-El says to the dog: “Watch over our son.”

Years later, Kal-El is now an adult living in the big city of Metropolis under the name Clark Kent. He’s a bachelor who works as a reporter at the Daily Planet newspaper, but Clark Kent is an alter ego to his secret identity: a superhero named Superman (voiced by John Krasinski), who has super-strength, X-ray vision and the ability to fly. The dog, named Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), is still his loyal companion and knows about the secret life of Superman, because Krypto often fights crime alongside Superman.

Krypto has superpowers that are the same as Superman’s superpowers. And they both have the same weakness: an energy force called kryptonite that can drain their superpowers. Krypto and Superman are a lot alike, when it comes to how they view crime and justice. However, Superman and Krypto are very different when it comes to adapting to life on Earth: Superman/Clark Kent is social with humans, while Kypto is very aloof with other pets on Earth.

An early scene in the movie shows Krypto trying to get Superman to wake up because Krypto wants to go for a walk. But “walking the dog” for Superman really means “flying through the air with the dog.” Krypto often leads the way on the leash. The Metropolis in “DC League of Super-Pets” is designed to look like a modern, well-kept city with many tall buildings, just like in the comic books.

In this version of Metropolis, Superman is such a familiar sight, no one really thinks it’s unusual to see Superman in a park with his dog Krypto. It’s during one of these park outings that Krypto sees that things at home will soon change for Superman and Krypto. Superman/Clark Kent and his Daily Planet journalist co-worker Lois Lane (voiced by Olivia Wilde) are very much in love, and they meet at the park for a date. They show lovey-dovey public displays of affection, much to Krypto’s dismay.

The relationship between Superman/Clark Kent and Lois has gotten serious enough where it looks like this couple could be headed toward marriage. Krypto is jealous and fearful that Superman/Clark Kent will no longer have the time and attention for Krypto if Lois moves in with them. Krypto doesn’t dislike Lois. Krypto just sees her as a threat to the comfortable existence he has always known with Superman/Clark Kent.

As Krypto worries about how his home life will change if Lois moves in, some other pets in Metropolis are worried if they’ll ever have a permanent home. At an animal shelter called Tailhuggers, several pets are up for adoption, but so far, they have no takers. The shelter is run by a bachelorette named Patty (voiced by Yvette Nicole Brown), who is very kind to the pets and keeps them under vigilant protection.

Brash and sarcastic hound dog Ace (voiced by Kevin Hart) is the leader of the shelter pets. Other animals at the shelter are elderly turtle Merton (voiced by Natasha Lyonne), cheerful pig PB (voiced by Vanessa Bayer) and nervous squirrel Chip (voiced by Diego Luna), who are Ace’s closest friends at the shelter. Also at the shelter is a cat name Whiskers (voiced by Winona Bradshaw), whose loyalty to the shelter pets is later tested.

Ace is anxious to run away from the shelter and is constantly plotting his escape. He tells his animal shelter friends that he knows of a paradise-like farm upstate where they can all go to live freely. One day, Ace actually manages to run away from the shelter, but he doesn’t go far. He’s literally stopped in his tracks by “law and order” Krypto, who uses his superpowers to freeze Ace’s legs to the sidewalk when he sees that Ace is a runaway shelter dog. Needless to say, Ace and Krypto clash with each other the first time that they meet.

Meanwhile, Superman has a crime-fighting incident where he summons the help of his Justice League superhero colleagues: Batman (voiced by Keanu Reeves), Wonder Woman (voiced by Jamila Jamil), Aquaman (voiced by Jemaine Clement), Green Lantern (voiced by Dascha Polanco), The Flash (voiced by John Early) and Cyborg (voiced by Daveed Diggs). Through a series of incidents, all of these superheroes are captured by billionaire supervillain (and longtime Superman nemesis) Lex Luthor (voiced by Marc Maron), who is keeping his captives hidden in a secret lair. Lex also has a cynical assistant named Mercy Graves (voiced by Maya Erksine), who isn’t in the movie as much as she could have been. Mercy’s screen time is less than five minutes.

All of that would be enough of a plot for this movie, but “DC League of Super-Pets” also has a plot about a devious guinea pig named Lulu (voiced by Kate McKinnon), who manages to escape from a Lex Luthor-owned scientific lab that was experimenting on guinea pigs. Somehow, Lulu gets ahold of orange kryptonite (she’s immune to kryptonite), she develops telekinesis powers, and goes on a mission to prove her loyalty to Lex by trying to destroy the Justice League.

Lulu has an army of former lab guinea pigs to do her bidding. Two of Lulu’s most loyal of these accomplices are mutant guinea pigs that also have newfound superpowers: Mark (voiced by Ben Schwartz) is fiery red and can shoot flames, while Keith (voiced by Thomas Middleditch) is ice-blue and has the ability to freeze things. Lulu also has a plot to (cliché alert) take over the world.

It should come as no surprise that Krypto ends up joining forces with Ace, Merton, PB and Chip to try to save the Justice League and save the world. During the course of the story, certain superpowers are gained, lost and possibly gained again for certain characters. Viewers of “DC League of Super-Pets” should not expect the Justice League superheroes and Lex Luthor to get a lot of screen time, because the movie is more about the pets.

Lulu’s revenge plot gets a little convoluted, but not so confusing that very young children won’t be able to understand. The movie has the expected high-energy antics, with animation and visual effects that aren’t groundbreaking but are aesthetically pleasing on almost every level. Once viewers get used to all the characters that are quickly introduced in the movie, it makes “DC League of Super-Pets” more enjoyable.

The movie has some recurring jokes, such as self-referencing all the movies and licensing deals that come from comic-book superheroes. “DC League of Super-Pets” also has a running gag of guinea pig Lulu being insulted when she’s often misidentified as a hamster. After one such misidentification, Lulu snarls, “A hamster is just a dollar-store gerbil!”

Lulu has some of the funniest lines in the movie. When she sees the DC League of Super-Pets together, she makes this snarky comment: “What is this? PAW Patrol?” And even though Batman isn’t in the movie for a lot of time, he also has some memorable one-liners, which he delivers in a deadpan manner.

It soon becomes obvious that these Super-Pets have another purpose besides saving the world: Each pet will be paired with a Justice League superhero. PB is a big fan of Wonder Woman. This star-struck pig thinks that Wonder Woman has the confidence and independent spirit that PB thinks is lacking in PB’s own personality.

Turtles are known for walking slow, so it should come as no surprise that Merton admires The Flash, whose known for his superpower of lightning-fast speed. Ace sees himself as an “alpha male” who strikes out on his own when he has to do so, which makes Batman a kindred spirit. Chip is attracted to the fearlessness of Green Lantern. As for Aquaman and Cyborg, it’s shown at the end of the movie which pets will be paired with them.

Amid the action and comedy, “DC League of Super-Pets” also has some meaningful messages about finding a family of friends. Ace has a poignant backstory about how he ended up at an animal shelter. Ace’s background explains why he puts up a tough exterior to hide his vulnerability about being abandoned.

Johnson (who is one of the producers of “DC League of Super-Pets”) and Hart have co-starred in several movies together. Their comedic rapport as lead characters Krypto and Ace remains intact and one of the main reasons why “DC League of Super-Pets” has voice cast members who are perfectly suited to each other. Hart is a lot less grating in “DC League of Super-Pets” than he is in some of his other movies, where he often plays an over-the-top-buffoon.

Even though Ace is an animated dog, he has more heart than some of the human characters that Hart has played in several of his mediocre-to-bad movies, Law-abiding Krypto and rebellious Ace have opposite personalities, but they learn a lot from each other in ways that they did not expect. All of the other heroic characters have personal growth in some way too.

“DC League of Super-Pets” is a recommended watch for anyone who wants some escapist animation with entertainment personalities. The movie’s mid-credits scene and end-credits scene indicate that “DC League of Super-Pets” is the beginning of a movie series. It’s very easy to imagine audiences wanting more of these characters in movies if the storytelling is good.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “DC League of Super-Pets” in U.S. cinemas on July 29, 2022.

Review: ‘The Bad Guys’ (2022), starring the voices of Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos, Zazie Beetz and Richard Ayoade

April 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tarantula (voiced by Awkwafina), Snake (voiced by Marc Maron), Shark (voiced by Craig Robinson), Piranha (voiced by Anthony Ramos) and Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell) in “The Bad Guys” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“The Bad Guys” (2022)

Directed by Pierre Perifel

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city that resembles Los Angeles, the animated film “The Bad Guys” features a cast of characters depicting talking animals and humans.

Culture Clash: Five talking animals, which have reputations for being villains that scare people, are in a thieving gang and have various conflicts about their reputations and redemptions.

Culture Audience: “The Bad Guys” will appeal primarily to people interested in adventure-filled animated films that have messages about the dangers of misjudging people based on physical appearances.

Diane Foxington (voiced by Zazie Beetz) and Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell) in “The Bad Guys” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

Amid the high-energy antics of the animated film “The Bad Guys” are meaningful messages about redemption and the pitfalls of misjudging people based on stereotypes. This comedic movie has some sly anti-hero subversiveness that shines, even when the plot gets a little messy and jumbled. “The Bad Guys” also has plenty of eye-catching visuals and memorable action sequences to satisfy viewers who are looking for thrills as well as laughs in this entertaining movie.

Directed by Pierre Perifel, “The Bad Guys” is based on Aaron Blabey’s “The Bad Guys” children’s books. The movie has elements from the first four books of “The Bad Guys” book series. Etan Cohen wrote the screenplay for “The Bad Guys” animated film, which is Perifel’s feature-film directorial debut. It’s a rollicking adventure that has massive appeal with people of various ages. The movie also avoids the mistake of overstuffing it with too many characters.

In “The Bad Guys,” the title characters are a gang of five animals that are social outcasts because they’re perceived as “bad creatures” that humans fear because these creatures have the ability to kill humans. Because they have reputations for being “bad,” they’ve all decided to become self-fulfilling prophecies of those reputations. They are a gang of thieves in a U.S. city that is unnamed, but it’s designed to look like Los Angeles, and it’s populated with humans, talking animals and non-talking animals.

The five talking animals in “The Bad Guys” gang are:

  • Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell), the group’s smooth-talking leader, who is a master pickpocket.
  • Snake (voiced by Marc Maron), Wolf’s frequently grumpy best friend, whose specialty is safecracking.
  • Tarantula (voiced by Awkwafina), a hyperactive and sarcastic computer hacker, who has the nickname Webs.
  • Shark (voiced by Craig Robinson), a somewhat goofy master of disguises.
  • Piranha (voiced by Anthony Ramos), a short-tempered loose cannon, who has the ability to spread noxious fumes when he passes gas.

In the beginning of the movie, it’s Snake’s birthday, which the rest of his friends want to celebrate, but Snake does not want a birthday party because he hates birthdays. Snake doesn’t even want to have a birthday cake, although he does mention that he’s interested in a delicacy that he wouldn’t mind having for his birthday: guinea pigs.

Not long after Snake and Wolf have a back-and-forth debate over how they are going to celebrate Snake’s birthday, the gang robs a bank. As they all make their getaway in a car driven by Wolf, he sneers, “Go bad or go home.” Back at their hideout, the five pals celebrate Snake’s birthday with some cake. He reluctantly enjoys the party.

This gang is the ultimate anathema to Misty Luggins (voiced by Alex Borstein), the city’s hot-tempered human police chief who feels personally humiliated every time that these troublemaking pals get away with their crimes. Someone else who is determined to stop this gang of thieves is the newly elected governor named Diane Foxington (voiced by Zazie Beetz), a confident and intelligent fox. Governor Foxington announces at a press conference about these criminals: “These so-called bad-guys are second-rate has-beens.”

The five gang members see the governor insulting them on TV, so they decide to prove her wrong. Wolf is aware that the downfall of many gangs is when they make their crimes too personal, but he can’t resist the idea of making the governor regret calling the gang a bunch of laughable hacks. The gang members also take delight in embarrassing Police Chief Luggins and her police department.

It just so happens that an upcoming gala presents the ideal opportunity for the gang to do a very high-profile heist. A famous, publicity-seeking philanthropist guinea pig named Professor Robert Marmalade IV (voiced Richard Ayoade) is being honored for his charitable work with the Good Samaritan Award. At this event, this valuable prize will be given in the form of a large trophy called the Golden Dolphin, which is a portable dolphin statue made out of gold.

Access to the Golden Dolphin is highly restricted. Governor Foxington, who will present the award to Professor Marmalade, is the only one who has clearance to a room where the Golden Dolphin is being kept before the ceremony. The room can only be opened through an eye detection sensor on the door, with the sensor programmed to open when it sees an eye of Governor Foxington.

The gang concocts an elaborate plan to crash the gala and steal the Golden Dolphin. And, of course, not everything goes according to the plan. Not surprisingly, Wolf plays the role of a charming gala guest to distract Governor Foxington. Because they are both canines, it’s repeated in the movie that wolves and foxes aren’t very different from each other. And you know what that means, especially when Wolf and Governor Foxington exchange the type of romantic comedy banter of a would-be couple trying to pretend they’re not attracted to each other.

“The Bad Guys” has some plot twists that are somewhat unexpected, while other plot twists are very easy to predict. Marmalade is a do-gooder who believes that criminals can be redeemed, so he very publicly declares that this gang of five should be given a path to redemption. Most of the movie’s plot is how the gang takes this redemption offer but secretly plans to steal the Golden Dolphin anyway.

The movie also has a subplot about guinea pigs being held captive for scientific experiments at a place called Sunnyside Laboratories. A human TV reporter named Tiffany Fluffit (voiced by Lilly Singh) provides some mild comic relief as a character written as a parody of TV reporters who care more about their egos, fame and tabloid stories than in being good journalists. And there’s a cute, unnamed cat (that doesn’t talk like a human), which ends up teaching Wolf and his gang some lessons in compassion.

“The Bad Guys” is a well-cast movie, since all of the voice cast members for the main characters bring a distinctive edge to each of their respective characters’ unique personalities. “The Bad Guys” is not a movie where the characters are easily confused with each other, because each has something memorable that sets that character apart from everyone else. In an animated movie business that’s over-saturated with stories about talking animals, “The Bad Guys” is an above-average winner that is sure to inspire sequels.

Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Animation will release “The Bad Guys” in U.S. cinemas on April 22, 2022. The movie was released in other parts of the world, beginning on March 17, 2022.

Review: ‘Respect’ (2021), starring Jennifer Hudson

August 8, 2021

by Carla Hay

Marc Maron, Marlon Wayans and Jennifer Hudson in “Respect” (Photo by Quantrell D. Colbert/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Respect”

Directed by Liesl Tommy

Culture Representation: Taking place from the 1950s to 1970s, in various cities in the U.S. and Europe, the dramatic film “Respect” about music legend Aretha Franklin features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people) portraying people who were connected to Franklin in some way.

Culture Clash: Franklin soared to the greatest heights in show business, but her personal life was troubled with alcoholism, abusive relationships, and being haunted by childhood traumas. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of Aretha Franklin fans, “Respect” will appeal primarily to people interested in formulaic celebrity biopics and don’t mind if the pacing and story are disappointingly uneven.

Skye Dakota Turner and Audra McDonald in “Respect” (Photo by Quantrell D. Colbert/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

It’s indisputable that Aretha Franklin is one of the greatest music legends of all time. She won every possible major award for singing. She influenced millions of people and had numerous iconic hits. She was celebrated for other areas of her life, such as her civil rights activism and charitable work. And she rightfully holds the title of Queen of Soul. Franklin (who was 76 when she died of pancreatic cancer in 2018) deserves a biopic that does justice to her extraordinary life. Unfortunately, the woefully muddled “Respect” is not that movie.

Simply put: In this movie, the music soars, while the drama often bores. At 144 minutes long, “Respect” is an uneven biopic that makes a number of baffling and terrible choices in how to present Franklin’s life. “Respect” is the feature-film directorial debut of Liesl Tommy, who has extensive directorial experience on Broadway and in television. Tracey Scott Wilson, who’s been a playwright and a TV writer, also makes her feature-film debut as a screenwriter in “Respect.” Their lack of feature-film experience might have hurt the movie.

“Respect” has the benefit of a very talented cast, including two cast members (Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker) who have won Oscars for their acting. Hudson, who portrays Aretha Franklin in the movie, is an excellent, Grammy-winning singer in her own right. She has standout moments in “Respect” when she sings Franklin’s songs with a fiery passion that’s admirable. But it’s hard to go wrong with the movie’s musical numbers when an outstanding singer like Hudson gets to belt out Aretha Franklin classics that Hudson was singing years before she got cast in this movie.

Where the movie stumbles is how it drags down too many scenes with sluggish pacing, mediocre acting and uninspired dialogue. In addition, “Respect” is often tone-deaf and borderline irresponsible when it comes to depicting racial inequalities and racism in a movie that mostly takes place in the U.S. during the era of legal racial segregation and the civil rights movement that helped make this segregation illegal. It’s as if this movie was made by people who want to forget the racism experienced by Aretha Franklin and other black people in America, and would rather have scene after scene of Aretha Franklin getting abused by her African American husband.

One of the biggest mistakes is that the movie—which is mostly told in chronological order from the 1950s to 1970s (with some flashbacks)—spends the first 20 to 25 minutes focusing only on Aretha as a pre-teen, beginning in 1952 when she was 10 years old. As important as it is to depict Franklin’s childhood, it didn’t need to take up this much screen time in a feature-length movie. This lapse in judgment in spending too much time on Aretha’s childhood seems to be because the filmmakers wanted to showcase the impressive singing talent of Skye Dakota Turner, who is fantasic in her role as a young Aretha.

However, the childhood scenes are very repetitive in showing that Aretha as a child was trotted out like a show pony by her domineering minister father, Rev. Clarence LaVaughn “C.L.” Franklin (played by Whitaker), to sing for audiences whenever he told her to sing. The audiences could be in places as varied as a church, a nightclub or a house party. C.L. knew early in Aretha’s childhood that Aretha was going to be a star, and he was going to do everything possible to make it happen.

The movie also shows how Aretha was affected by her parents’ separation when she was a child. By the time the movie begins in 1952, the couple had been separated for four years. Her mother Barbara (played by Audra McDonald) moved out of the family home, which can be intepreted as either abandonment or as a woman who didn’t have the money and resources to fight for child custody against a more powerful spouse.

Aretha’s father had custody of Aretha and her siblings from this marriage. These siblings included older sister Erma, older brother Cecil and younger sister Carolyn. The actors portraying these siblings are Kennedy Chanel as young Erma, Saycon Sengbloh as adult Erma, Peyton Jackson as young Cecil, LeRoy McClain as adult Cecil, Nevaeh Moore as young Carolyn and Hailey Kilgore as adult Carolyn.

C.L.’s mother (played by Kimberly Scott), who has the name Mama Franklin in the movie’s credits, helps raise the children. She is a kind and loving authority figure in the children’s lives, but not as warm and welcoming to the kids’ mother. Barbara is a mysterious and intermittent presence who’s treated like a pariah by C.L. and his mother. There’s a lot of tension when Barbara comes to visit the children.

The reason for the breakdown in the marriage is stated only as C.L. spending too much time away from home as a traveling minister. His alleged infidelities are not mentioned in the film, nor is it mentioned that he fathered a daughter named Carl Ellan (born in 1940) with a 12-year-old girl from his congregation named Mildred Jennings. (It’s a widely reported story that has not been disputed by the Franklin family.)

It is mentioned during an argument scene that C.L. abandoned his first wife and family and then moved on to Barbara, who was his second wife. Barbara and C.L. were never legally divorced. While still legally married but separated from Barbara, C.L. began an on-again/off-again relationship in 1949, with a gospel singer named Clara Ward (played by Heather Headley), who was his longtime companion until her death in 1973. Although she and C.L. were never married, they were known as the reigning couple of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where C.L. was a very influential member of the community.

Even though C.L. was the more dominant parent in Aretha’s life, the movie shows that her mother Barbara had a huge influence on Aretha as a singer and as a musician. The movie depicts this mother and daughter spending happy times singing together, often while Barbara played the piano. Aretha also became a skilled pianist.

Tragically, Barbara died of a heart attack at the age of 34 in 1952. The movie shows how Aretha was devastated by her mother’s death, but the movie doesn’t mention how Barbara died. When C.L. reluctantly tells Aretha the news about Barbara’s passing, Aretha doesn’t even ask what caused her mother’s death. It’s an example of how this movie sloppily leaves out realistic details and how it treats some of Aretha’s family members more like plot devices than real human beings.

Aside from having a messy and fractured family life, Aretha was also profoundly affected by childhood sexual abuse. It’s depicted in a non-explicit way in the movie as Aretha, at 10 or 11 years old, being the victim of statutory rape by a guy in his late teens or early 20s who was a guest in the Franklin home during a house party. Later, there’s a brief flashback to Aretha as a 12-year-old, pregnant with her first child: a boy named Clarence (named after her father), who was born in 1955.

For years, Aretha refused to publicly say who was the father of her son Clarence. In 1957, she gave birth out of wedlock to a second son named Edward, whose father was Edward Jordan. According to several reports, Aretha wrote in her will that Jordan was also the father of Clarence.

She went on to have two more sons: Ted White Jr. (born in 1964, from her first marriage to her manager Ted White), and Kecalf Cunningham (born in 1970, from a relationship she had with her tour manager Ken Cunningham). In the movie, Joel Xavier Alston and William J. Simmons portray Clarence; Christopher Daniel and Chase Burgess portray Edward; and Malaki Sample portrays Ted White Jr.

Aretha was a high-profile supporter of the U.S civil rights movement, and the movie correctly shows that she and her father C.L. were allies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (played by Gilbert Glenn Brown), the civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. However, the movie makes it look like Aretha never experienced racism from white people. It’s really insulting to viewers’ intelligence that the filmmakers of “Respect” make a big deal out of Aretha’s support of the civil rights movement and yet refused to show why the civil rights movement existed in the first place.

Aretha was born in Memphis and grew up in Detroit. She spent years touring in the U.S. during the ugly period in American history when racial segregation was legal. Black people and other people of color who traveled in certain parts of the U.S. experienced human rights violations, especially in places where people were segregated by race. Anyone who wasn’t white in a “white only” area could be subjected to hateful abuse or worse. And yet, the movie completely erases these racist experiences from her life.

It wouldn’t have been so hard to have something as simple as a scene of Aretha traveling somewhere while on tour and seeing signs that said “White Only” or “Colored Only,” which were prevalent in these racially segregated areas. It’s grossly inaccurate for any movie about an African American entertainer who toured the U.S. during the segregation era to not show this despicable part of American history. And the fact that “Respect” was written and directed by black women makes it even more mind-boggling that they would leave out this truthful part of Aretha’s life. Aretha might have been a superstar, but she still experienced racism, just like any black person in America.

In fact, the movie makes it look like all the white people whom Aretha ever encountered in her life went out of their way to be nice to her. And that might have been true on a business level when she had some type of fame and people were making money off of her, but not in her everyday life as an African American female, especially before she became famous. A large part of this movie is about before Aretha was a celebrity. That doesn’t mean this movie had to make all white people she encountered look like racists, because that would be inaccurate. But it’s also very wrong and insulting to the civil rights movement to depict Aretha Franklin’s life as being some kind of concocted fantasy where she was immune to racism.

The biggest racist and the biggest villain in the movie is Aretha’s first husband Ted White (played by Marlon Wayans), whom she married in 1961, at age 18, and who became her manager right around the time that she signed her first record deal. He is written as the worst possible stereotype of an angry black man. He’s abusive, violent and misogynistic. In case it isn’t clear that Ted is also a racist, he frequently spews derogatory racist names for white people and black people whenever he wants to feel important.

Ted flies into a rage when he sees other men, especially white men, admiring Aretha. There’s a scene in a hotel room where Ted verbally and physically attacks one of Aretha’s recording session musicians (a white man), who tries to talk Ted out of canceling a recording session that is going well. Ted wants to cut short the recording session, all because Ted didn’t like the way one of the musicians was touching Aretha.

Of course, you don’t have to be a psychiatrist to see (because the movie shows it) that Aretha’s attraction to Ted was partly to due to rebelling against her father (who greatly disapproved of Ted) and partly because she wanted a husband who was controlling like her father. Like many abusive partners, Ted has a charming side that he uses to keep his partner hooked on the relationship. Aretha is depicted as someone who was very insecure with low self-esteem, except when it came to showing her talent.

Although not as toxic as Ted, Aretha’s father C.L. is also portrayed as having an unhealthy relationship with Aretha. For example, in a scene where Aretha was a Columbia Records artist, she tells C.L. that she doesn’t have hit songs because “you don’t make good songs for me.” In response, C.L. slaps her in the face. The movie is filled with hokey lines, such as when Aretha’s father C.L. says to her when she fires him as her manager and replaces him with Ted: “You’re going to beg to take me back, but I won’t!”

Whitaker isn’t in the movie as much as Wayans, but both C.L. and Ted are depicted as two-dimensional control freaks. Ted manipulates Aretha to stay with him, by saying that they both have personal demons and only she can help him control his demons. It’s made very clear throughout the story, because the movie shows viewers through flashbacks, that Aretha’s alcoholism and her relationship problems are the result of her dysfunctional childhood and her trauma from sexual abuse.

The movie accurately shows that Aretha wasn’t an overnight sensation. During the early years of her career, when Aretha was signed to Columbia Records, she had trouble finding her identity as a singer. She sang mostly R&B music, but she couldn’t get any mainstream crossover hits from any of the albums that she released on Columbia. Columbia Records chief John Hammond (played by Tate Donovan) is depicted as friendly but not very attuned to Aretha on an artistic level.

In addition to her mother’s musical influence, Aretha had early musical guidance from Reverend Dr. James Cleveland (played by Tituss Burgess), who has a small role in the film, mostly playing the piano while Aretha sings. It’s such a small role that many viewers who don’t know Aretha’s history might forget that this character is in the movie. The character is written so generically that it’s a waste of Burgess’ talent.

Mary J. Blige has a brief supporting role as singer Dinah Washington, a friend and inspiration to a young Aretha. In one of the movie’s several melodramatic scenes, Aretha as a young adult in 1963 (before she was famous) is singing at New York City’s Villlage Vanguard nightclub, where Dinah is in the audience. Just as Aretha begins singing one of Dinah’s songs as a tribute, Dinah loses her temper and flips over the table where Dinah is sitting.

Dinah yells at Aretha in front of the crowd: “Bitch! Don’t you ever sing the queen’s songs when the queen is in front of you!” It’s the kind of scene that you might see in a Tyler Perry movie. Later, in the dressing room, Dinah has calmed down, and she offers this advice to Aretha: “Find the songs that suit you. Until you do that, you ain’t going nowhere.”

Aretha’s career vastly improved after she signed to Atlantic Records in 1966. Under the musical mentorship of Atlantic Records co-founder Jerry Wexler (played by Marc Maron), she found the songs that suited her. These hits included “Respect” (a cover version of an Otis Redding song), “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Think,” all of which Hudson performs in the movie.

And for the first time in her career, Aretha’s session musicians were all white, which initially didn’t sit well at all with her racist husband/manager Ted. There are mutliple scenes where Ted and Jerry clash over the race of Aretha’s backup musicians. Ted wanted to stick with the black musicians Aretha had been working with for quite some time, while Jerry says these musicians are inferior to the white musicians whom Jerry wanted to have for Aretha’s backup band.

However, Ted couldn’t argue with the success that came when Aretha started getting big hits and became a major star. They moved to New York City and led a celebrity lifestyle that hid from the public a lot of abuse that Ted inflicted on her behind the scenes. The movie shows that after Ted brutally assaulted Aretha during a vicious fight, she left him to go back to her family in Detroit on at least one occasion. But he sweet-talked his way back into her life and took a lot of credit for her success. The couple eventually divorced in 1969.

Jerry Wexler is portrayed as a shrewd wheeler dealer who was skilled with artists not just on an artistic level but also on a business level. He’s credited with bringing Aretha to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in 1967, to record one of her most well-known songs: “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” the title track of her album released that year.

For a movie about this music legend, there’s the expected number of hits, but they’re presented in a very superficial, jukebox style. One minute, Aretha is at home singing along with some family members to Redding’s “Respect” and saying how she wanted to record a version of the song, even though Ted and some other people were skeptical. The next minute, she’s recorded the song, and it’s a big hit.

There is some screen time (but not enough) showing how Aretha crafted the songs in the recording studio. Most of her hits were written by other songwriters, but she played piano and helped arrange many of her song melodies. The movie gives most of the credit for Aretha’s transformation in the recording studio to Jerry and the white musicians he hired to be her backup band. Jerry and these musicians are depicted as showing Aretha a different way of approaching music than what she was previously doing in a recording studio.

Aretha had the talent all along, but the movie has somewhat of a “white savior” narrative that Jerry and these musicians took her career to hitmaking levels. Eventually, she had a racially integrated band, but the movie presents any of her male co-workers as perceived problems for bullying Ted, who was paranoid that other men would try to seduce Aretha or try to undermine Ted’s control over her. Meanwhile, the movie shows that Ted was cheating on Aretha.

“Think” was one of the hits that Aretha wrote, but the behind-the-scenes story about the song is reduced to it being inspired by her abusive relationship with Ted, who got a co-songwriting credit. Later in the movie, when they have an argument, Aretha expresses regret about giving him that songwriting credit because she says he hardly worked on the song. Overall, the movie does a disservice in telling the stories behind Aretha’s biggest hits.

The story behind “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”—written by Carole King, Gerry Goffin and Wexler—is left completely out of the movie, even though the song is unquestionably one of Aretha’s greatest anthems. The closest that the movie comes to acknowledging who wrote “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” is during the end credits: There’s a clip showing the real Aretha performing the song during the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, where Carole King was an honoree and rapturously reacting in the audience. It just serves as a reminder that no scripted project with actors can truly capture the musical genius of the real Aretha.

“Aint No Way,” written by Aretha’s younger sister Carolyn, is performed in the movie, which leaves out the story behind that song too. Carolyn was an “out of the closet” lesbian to her friends and family, and the song was about the secret love she had for another woman. The “Respect” movie does not discuss the personal lives of Carolyn and Erma, who were longtime backup singers for Aretha. And their personal lives didn’t have to be in this movie, but the movie erases a lot of the LGBTQ presence in Aretha’s life.

According to author David Ritz’s comprehensive 2014 biography “Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin,” gay and lesbian couples and hookups were very common among the performers and employees of the gospel tours that Aretha did in her youth, and they were among her earliest exposures to LGBTQ people. The closest that the movie comes to acknowledging the LGBTQ community that was part of Aretha’s life is during the movie’s 1952 opening scene at a Franklin house party, where two men are very briefly seen flirting with each other and giving each other an amorous embrace.

It’s as if the “Respect” filmmakers went so far out of their way to erase certain truthful aspects of Aretha’s life, in order to not to offend certain people who want to pretend that these facts of her life did not exist. Instead, the “African American diva with the abusive husband” narrative is one they obviously felt comfortable pounding into the story repeatedly. Aretha Franklin was married to Ted White for only eight years. She experienced racism for a lot longer than that, but you’d never know it by what the filmmakers chose to put or not put in this movie.

After Aretha and Ted broke up, Aretha’s older brother Cecil eventually took over her business affairs, but that’s barely acknowledged in the movie. Her siblings are just treated as side characters who are there to serve Aretha or get yelled at when Aretha is angry and/or drunk. More than once in the film, Aretha accuses her sisters of being jealous that she’s a more successful singer than they are. If you’re looking for any insightful Franklin family scenes in this movie, forget it. Her biological family members are shamelessly and unfairly written as supporting characters in a soap opera.

Aretha’s affair with her tour manager Ken Cunningham (played by Albert Jones) is portrayed as partly getting revenge on Ted for his infidelities and partly because Aretha turned to Ken out of loneliness. Unlike Ted, Ken is portrayed as a good guy. However, Ken got involved with Aretha during the worst of her alcoholism, so the relationship was doomed, even though the movie rushes in an “Aretha gets sober” redemption arc toward the end. The movie doesn’t show Aretha and Ken’s breakup, because the film ends in 1972, when Aretha recorded her “Amazing Grace” live gospel album, which remains the best-selling album of her career. (“Respect” also mentions the “Amazing Grace” documentary film that was made about recording this album.)

Hudson’s portrayal of Aretha is not horrible, but it’s far from an award-worthy performance. She excels during the musical numbers, but her dramatic scenes with some of the actors (especially with Wayans) are often mired in stilted, awkward pauses. Hudson sometimes has the real Aretha’s vocal cadence when she speaks, but other times she drops it and talks like Jennifer Hudson.

The scenes about Ted’s jealousy and abusiveness wallow in tacky melodrama. There’s a scene at an Aretha concert where Ted gets angry backstage when he sees that some of Aretha’s overzealous fans are trying to climb on stage. Instead of letting the professional security team handle it, Ted storms out on stage in the middle of the performance and acts like he’s about to body slam anyone who gets close to Aretha. And when Ted sees the way Aretha and Ken look at each other when they first meet, he’s ready to pick a fight with Ken.

One of the worst scenes in the movie is when a drunk Aretha falls off of the stage during a 1967 concert in Columbus, Georgia. This happened in real life, and she broke her arm in this incident. In the movie, no broken bones are mentioned, but she’s shown unconscious on the floor, like a rag doll. The entire scene is so clumsily filmed and melodramatic, it comes across as an unintentional bad parody.

As for her civil rights activism, because this movie inaccurately makes it look like Aretha never experienced racism first-hand, she’s portrayed as somewhat of a bystander in the civil rights movement. There’s a scene where Aretha, as a grown woman, asks her father for permission to march in civil rights protests, but he says no. There’s a scene where Aretha is shown getting the news about Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder and later singing at his funeral. And there’s a scene that’s set in 1970, with Aretha giving a press conference where she talks about how imprisoned activist Angela Davis needs to be set free. There are no scenes of Aretha or anyone in her family actually experiencing racism directly, even though everyone knows it happened in real life.

Those are just some examples of how this movie disrespectfully chopped up and/or tossed aside aspects of Aretha’s life, in service of a warped narrative that Aretha never experienced racism, and the only people who ever hurt her were black men. In portraying Aretha’s illustrious and complicated life, this very misguided biopic took the tabloid route and made approximately half of the screen time be about Aretha in an abusive relationship with a man she was married to for eight of the 76 years that she lived.

Was she flawed? Did she make a lot of mistakes? Of course. But she deserved much better than a movie called “Respect” was willing to give her. Fortunately, there are several well-written Aretha Franklin biographies, interviews that she gave over the years, and (of course) her timeless music that give a more meaningful and more accurate picture of who she really was.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures will release “Respect” in U.S. cinemas on August 13, 2021. A one-night-only sneak preview of the movie was held in U.S. cinemas on August 8, 2021.

Review: ‘Stardust’ (2020), starring Johnny Flynn, Jena Malone and Marc Maron

December 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Aaron Poole and Johnny Flynn in “Stardust” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Stardust” (2020)

Directed by Gabriel Range

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1971, in England and various parts of the United States, the drama “Stardust” features an all-white cast of characters in a fictional interpretation of David Bowie and his early career.

Culture Clash: Bowie goes on a promotional tour of America and is frustrated by getting a mostly confused reaction or lack of interest from the music industry and music consumers.

Culture Audience: “Stardust” tries to appeal to Bowie fans, but the movie is a sloppily made bore that’s an insult to Bowie’s legacy.

Johnny Flynn and Marc Maron in “Stardust” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

British rock star David Bowie was a fascinating, vibrant and legendary artist. But you’d never know it by how the dreadfully dull and shoddy film “Stardust” tries to tarnish his legacy by portraying Bowie in 1971 as a petulant hack who cared more about looking like a moody artist than actually creating any art. You don’t have to be a Bowie fan to know that his creativity was perhaps his most-admired trait as an artist. “Stardust” looks like the filmmakers cared more about replicating Bowie’s crooked teeth than making a reasonably good movie.

Needless to say, Bowie’s family/estate had nothing to do with this embarrassing mess of a film. Bowie, who died of cancer in 2016, never wanted to write a memoir or have a movie made about his life. But “Stardust” writer/director Gabriel Range clearly didn’t respect that wish and wanted a cash grab of a movie while trying to boost his career as a filmmaker. The result is an insulting film that blatantly uses the famous name of an artist with real talent and warps the artist’s story by making the artist look very untalented.

To make matters worse, Range gave this statement in the “Stardust” production notes: “I’ve been fascinated by Bowie ever since I was a kid. I bought every record, read every interview, every biography.” Really? Based on the way that “Stardust” turned out, it looks like Range forgot everything he heard and read about Bowie and replaced it with this delusional story: Bowie is a wannabe rock star who has a creative breakthrough only when he rips off an idea in a therapy session while visiting his schizophrenic brother in a psychiatric institution.

Until “Stardust” gets to this ludicrously bad plot development near the end of the film, it’s a sluggish and often-idiotic slog that makes the movie’s sex, drugs and rock’n’roll clichés look like pathetic posturing by woefully miscast actors. The casting in this movie is simply atrocious, with actors in their 30s and 40s portraying people who were supposed to be in their 20s at the time this story takes place in 1971. Bowie, his band mates, his wife Angie, and Bowie’s good friend Marc Bolan (the lead singer of T. Rex) are among the characters who are cast with age-inappropriate actors who seem to be doing parodies of the real people.

The only actor who actually comes close to looking and sounding like an authentic showbiz person from this time period is Marc Maron. He portrays a smarmy American publicist named Ron Oberman, who works for Mercury Records (Bowie’s record label at the time) and volunteers to chaperone Bowie during Bowie’s disastrous 1971 tour of America. This tour takes up about 80% of the movie.

Ron was a real person, but he never did this type of road trip with Bowie in real life. Because Ron wasn’t famous, most people in the general public won’t know how accurately the movie portrays his personality. However, Maron at least realistically depicts how publicists in the music business often act when they’re desperate to get media coverage for an artist whose most recent album is considered a flop.

Although there’s a disclaimer in the beginning of “Stardust” that says, “What follows is (mostly) fictional,” it’s a moronic statement. That’s because the filmmakers didn’t change real-life people’s names, album titles, song titles and other major identifiers about Bowie’s life in this story. A more accurate statement would have been: “What follows is (mostly) a ripoff of Bowie’s life and legacy.”

British actor Johnny Flynn portrays David Bowie (whose birth surname was Jones) in “Stardust.” Flynn has the misfortune of being stuck in the aforementioned crooked teeth (the movie’s most accurate replication from Bowie’s life) and in cheap-looking wigs. Flynn tries and mostly fails at capturing the charismatic and mysterious essence of Bowie. (For the purposes of this review, the Bowie character in the movie will be identified as David, while the real-life Bowie will be referred to as Bowie.)

In real life, Bowie had an elegant, otherworldly aura about him, while Flynn depicts Bowie as a pouty and confused dandy who looks like he’s a rejected extra who wandered off of the set of filmmaker Todd Haynes’ 1998 Bowie-inspired drama “Velvet Goldmine,” which was also set in the 1970s. There are moments when Flynn attempts to portray Bowie as a misunderstood, tortured soul. But the acting is too affected and too mired in insufferably inane dialogue.

Flynn does his own singing in “Stardust,” which obviously couldn’t get the rights to any of Bowie’s original studio recordings or any songs written by Bowie. Instead, viewers get snippets of third-rate performances of Flynn as David on stage, singing cover versions of other artists’ songs, such as Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would” and Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam” and “My Death.” There’s also a performance of “Good Ol’ Jane,” an original song written by Flynn that sounds like a wannabe Velvet Underground tune.

And this is very much a solo tour. Bowie’s band members, including guitarist Mick Ronson (played by Aaron Poole), are not on this trip. And therefore, the band members are barely in the movie.

In the beginning of “Stardust” (which mainly takes place in 1971, but jumps back and forth in time with David’s flashbacks), David arrives at an airport in Washington, D.C., and immediately stands out as a “freak” because he’s very androgynous-looking. As customs officials go through David’s luggage and see that he has feminine-looking clothes in his suitcase, one of the officials holds up a dress and looks at it with a mixture of curiosity and disgust.

David says pretentiously, “It’s a man’s dress. It’s by Michael Fish. He invented the kipper tie.” The customs official could care less. Later on, David is asked during an interview in the customs area if he is gay (David is advised to answer no, so he says no) or has any mental illnesses. This question about mental illness triggers a series of flashbacks to David spending time with his older half-brother Terry Burns (played by Derek Moran), who was diagnosed as schizophrenic and spent time in a psychiatric institution, as did the real Terry Burns.

Through these various flashbacks, viewers see that Terry, who’s about 10 years older than David, was David’s greatest inspiration when he was growing up. Terry was the first person to introduce David to music. And the movie pushes a narrative that David’s “The Man Who Sold the World” album (released in the U.S. in November 1970 and in the U.K. in April 1971) was largely inspired by David’s fears that he might inherit his family’s history of mental illness, since David’s maternal aunts and maternal grandmother were also schizophrenic. The album track “All the Madmen” was supposed to be about Terry and David’s relationship, according to this movie.

“The Man Who Sold the World” album wasn’t the big hit that David had with his 1969 self-titled second album, which yielded his breakthrough single “Space Oddity.” In the movie, David is seen having several tense meetings about his career, because he’s in danger of being considered a one-hit wonder, and there’s talk that Mercury Records might drop him.

In England, David’s manager Tony Defries (played by Julian Richings) and David’s wife Angie (played by Jena Malone) lecture David on what they think is best for his career. (In real life, Bowie’s manager at the time was Tony DeVries.) Tony tells David that “The Man Who Sold the World” album is considered “too dark and weird for the Yanks.” Tony mentions to David that publicist Ron Oberman is supposedly the only person at Mercury Records who cares about David.

Angie is an American, but she puts on airs with a fake accent where she tries to sound British. During the tour, she’s pregnant at the Bowies’ home in England, although the movie never shows her giving birth in May 1971 to David and Angie’s son, who was then known as Zowie Bowie, but he now goes by the name Duncan Jones. In the movie, not once does David show any concern for his unborn child. David doesn’t even mention his child. It’s simply horrendous how the movie makes him look like a cold, uncaring father, when in reality (by all accounts) he was a more nurturing parent to Duncan/Zowie than Angie was.

In real life, David and Angie Bowie were very open about being bisexual swingers, which is depicted in the movie as Angie reacting this way when a young woman attempts to seduce David at a party, with Angie nearby. Angie says haughtily to this would-be mistress: “If you want him, you have to go through me.” Angie then gives the woman a passionate kiss on the mouth and tells her that she can join her and David in the bedroom later. T. Rex singer Bolan (played by James Cade) makes a cameo at this party by giving a badly written speech about the joys of taking LSD, as if he’s trying to be the next Timothy Leary.

Angie is depicted as someone who loved to tell people that she and David had an unconventional marriage. But in this movie, she falls into a very conventional “wife of a musician” stereotype of being a nagging shrew who complains that David doesn’t pay more attention to her when he’s away on tour. She also fancies herself as a wheeler dealer who can take control of certain aspects of David’s career, even though the movie doesn’t show her actually doing anything business-minded, except trying to get Ron fired because David’s career in America isn’t going as well as she hopes it will.

During the road trip with Ron in America, David gets a rude awakening when he thinks he’s going to be treated like a star. Instead, he’s mostly treated like an oddball nobody. Rather than staying at a five-star hotel as he expected when he first arrives in America, David stays at the house of Ron’s parents until David and Ron begin their road trip, with Ron doing the driving. Ron is middle-aged and divorced with no kids. It’s implied that Ron still lives with his parents.

Ron thinks David is a genius and tells him that repeatedly. This fast-talking publicist is convinced that he can persuade people into believing the same way about David. However, based on the things that people in the music industry say to Ron and how he’s treated, Ron doesn’t get much respect because his career has gone nowhere and he’s considered kind of a joke.

David’s management in England botched the immigration paperwork, so David doesn’t find out until he arrives in America that he doesn’t have a work visa to perform music during this visit. In other words, the “Stardust” filmmakers couldn’t get the rights to Bowie’s music so they had to think of a reason in the plot to explain why Bowie’s original songs aren’t in the movie. Despite David being told that he can’t perform any of his music on the tour, the movie still shows David performing anyway. Ron books David at a hotel convention for vacuum salespeople, and a humiliated David performs in a hotel bar to a very straight-laced crowd that largely ignores him.

Ron arranges interviews with David and influential people in the media, but David grows increasingly difficult and deliberately sabotages the interviews. An interview with a magazine journalist named Tom Classon (played by Ryan Blakeley) only happens after Ron pathetically begs Tom to interview David. Tom doesn’t like “The Man Who Sold the World” album, but only agrees to interview David to get Ron to stop pestering him about it. During the interview, David acts weird and standoffish and then does part of his pantomime act. And Tom literally laughs as he abruptly ends the interview.

At a nightclub bar after another underwhelming performance, Ron introduces David to Jeanie Richards (played by Annie Briggs), a music writer for a major publication called Skyline. But instead of having a conversation with her, as Ron is expecting, David decides to hang out with another woman he met that night whose pickup line was: “Do you want to do some coke with me?” David and this random woman then do cocaine and have sex in a back room while Jeanie waits at the bar for David to come back to talk to her. He never does.

And at a radio station in the Midwest, Ron tells David that the radio station has a wholesome reputation, so he asks David to keep the interview “clean.” But David alienates the DJ (played by David Huband) by giving bizarre and raunchy answers in the interview. The DJ suddenly ends the interview and changes David’s record to play something else.

After Ron and David leave the radio station, Ron predictably gets angry at David for ruining the interview. They argue and David shouts: “I feel like I’m in a carnival sideshow—without the carnival … I came here to be a star!”

David’s entitlement is completely obnoxious because he wants to be a star, but he doesn’t want to do any real work, and he’s disrespectful to people who are trying to help him in his career. Needless to say, the movie never shows David as a true songwriter. And aside from a scene where Ron and David gush to each other about artists who made a big impact on them (The Stooges for Ron, Vince Taylor for David), the relationship between Ron and David is mostly joyless to watch.

When Ron first met David, he promised David that he would eventually get David on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. And so, there’s a time-wasting subplot about how David and Ron try to get a meeting with a high-ranking Rolling Stone editor named John Mickelson (played by Richard Clarkin), who doesn’t wait around for them when David and Ron are very late (more than an hour) for a scheduled appointment at a hotel in New York City. Ron finds out that John will be in Los Angeles, so Ron and David make a cross-country trip to try to meet up with John again.

“Stardust” has some very dumb and pointless scenes that seem concocted just to name drop Andy Warhol and Lou Reed in the movie. While in New York City, David goes to a party, where he meets Warhol (who’s never seen in the film) and leaves the party in an angry huff because he feels like Warhol disrespected him and used David for footage in a tacky short film. What did David do in this short film? Pantomime, of course.

The “Stardust” reference to former Velvet Underground singer Reed is even sillier. While Ron and David are still in New York City, they go to a Velvet Underground show at a nightclub. The band is performing on stage, but the movie doesn’t even have any music resembling the Velvet Underground in this scene.

The scene then shows Ron and David walking on the street after the performance, with David talking excitedly about how much he admires Lou Reed and how much he enjoyed talking to Lou after the show. Ron tells David that Lou actually left the Velvet Underground a few months earlier, and the singer whom David was talking to was actually Lou’s replacement Doug Yule. David then says he doesn’t care because the guy he was talking to was interesting anyway.

During this entire movie, David keeps having flashbacks to good and bad memories of his older brother Terry. And as David does more cocaine, he becomes increasingly paranoid that he’s going to be stricken with a mental illness. In one of the flashbacks, David overhears his parents Mrs. and Mrs. Jones (played by Geoffrey McGivern and Olivia Carruthers) saying that they think Terry is a lost cause, but they’re relieved that David doesn’t seem to have the “family curse” of schizophrenia.

After David’s U.S. tour ends and he comes back to England feeling disillusioned about his stalled career, David visits a psychiatric institution where Terry has been living. David watches a group therapy session where the patients are doing “drama therapy,” which is explained as working out emotional problems by pretending to be someone else. It’s here that David has a silent “a-ha” moment and it’s where the movie basically tells the audience that this is why the real-life Bowie constantly reinvented himself with different personas.

The movie ends with David unveiling a new persona that will redefine his career: Ziggy Stardust, a red-haired alien from outer space. And he has renamed his band the Spiders From Mars. The band members, whose speaking lines are in “Stardust” for less than 10 minutes, are depicted in the movie as hating their new costumes that they’ve been given to wear on stage. And then, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars are born with their first performance.

Simply put: “Stardust” is a travesty on almost every level. Bowie was a first-rate artist. He and his legacy don’t deserve this mind-numbing trash.

IFC Films released “Stardust” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 25, 2020.

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