A film about David Bowie unlikely to appeal to his fans - or to anybody else.


Johnny Flynn as David


The fact that the Elton John biopic Rocketman was both a commercial and a critical hit in 2019 makes it unsurprising that we should now be offered a film about David Bowie. The man who brings it to us is Gabriel Range who both directs it and shares the writing credit with Christopher Bell. But if Range thought that he had a project destined for success it does not appear to have turned out that way. One reason for that lies in the fact that Range was unable to get the co-operation of the Bowie estate but decided to go ahead regardless even though it meant that Stardust could not feature any of Bowie's songs. Equally fatal to the enterprise is Range opting to concentrate on the year 1971 when the young Bowie travelled to America to undertake a tour that would help to make his name there. That period might well end with the emergence of a new stage persona in the form of Ziggy Stardust but until that moment is reached little is happening to sustain a feature film.


Stardust begins when the 24-year-old Bowie (Johnny Flynn) flies in to Washington and is met by the one American publicist who believes in him, Ron Oberman (Marc Maron). Lacking the necessary work visa for the tour he had been promised (an oversight never really explained), Bowie has to accept instead any interviews he can get together with performances for private parties. It's a set-up that turns Stardust into a kind of road movie as Oberman drives him around yet finds that he has a client who messes up virtually every meeting arranged with a journalist or a radio DJ.  But none of this is very interesting and it all feels like a narrative dead on its feet. The one potentially striking moment - an encounter with Andy Warhol - is described but not depicted. To bolster things up a bit there are flashbacks set in England but these are clumsily inserted in order to fit in scenes with Bowie's wife Angie (Jena Malone) and with his half-brother Terry (Derek Moran). But even then Angie's character is insufficiently fleshed out while in contrast the revelation that Terry was institutionalised as a schizophrenic (a condition in the family which Bowie thought would overtake him) is pushed heavily.


Most biopics take some liberties and the film's opening declaration - 'What follows is (mostly) fiction' - may be simply a jokey way of acknowledging that. Nevertheless, inaccuracies may irritate Bowie's fans especially and it has been said that Oberman and his family were very different from what we see here and that Bowie, his 'Space Oddity' hit behind him but still ahead of finding out how he wanted to present himself on stage, was far more articulate than the film shows him to be. On the latter point, what really matters is that by being portrayed as a young singer with a total lack of confidence the film's David Bowie is so dull (that's much more the fault of the script than it is of Johnny Flynn). Marc Maron at least handles the role of Oberman with aplomb, but the film's view of how through hints Bowie found his way forward is hardly persuasive and the fans will not readily accept the fact that the only songs heard are not Bowie originals. All told, even if the film could be worse still, this is a project which, however well intended, can only disappoint in the way that it has been realised. Truth to tell, there is but one place that is fitting for it: Davy Jones's locker.




Cast: Johnny Flynn, Marc Maron, Jena Malone, Derek Moran, Anthony Flanagan, Brendan J. Rowland, Aaron Poole, Ryan Blakely, James Cade, Gord Rand, Monica Parker, Julian Richings, Paulino Numes.


Dir Gabriel Range, Pro Matt Code, Nick Taussig and Paul Van Carter, Screenplay Gabriel Range and Christopher Bell, Ph Nicholas D. Knowland, Pro Des Aidan Leroux, Ed Chris Gill, Music Anne Nitikin, Costumes Julia Patkos.


Wildling Pictures/Film Constellation/Salon Pictures-Vertigo Releasing.
109 mins. UK. 2020. Rel: 15 January 2021. Available on VOD. Cert. 15.