Although he doesn’t know it, one-hit-wonder David Bowie (Johnny Flynn) is drowning in London. With his label left unimpressed by his The Man Who Sold World album, they decide to send him on a tour of the United States. However, when he gets there, he finds only lone publicist Ron Oberman (Marc Maron) to greet him. Even more underwhelming than this is the revelation that David can’t play any tour dates – but Ron still has faith. Cajoling David into the back of his family estate, they hit the road together in an attempt to make it big. However, the path to Bowie’s later success won’t be a straight one…
… Stardust is that it’s not what you’d expect from a rockstar biopic and certainly not one about David Bowie.
Awash with sepia tones throughout, director Gabriel Range’s Stardust is David Bowie the struggling musician before he became David Bowie the rock star legend. Floating through space in an affectionate nod towards Stanley Kubrick’s 2001’s stargate sequence, David is seen floating in Kier Dullea’s spacesuit. However, where it comes to the meatier matter of how Bowie became Ziggy Stardust, then the film comes in for a bumpy landing.
This is because just as its lead character struggles for notoriety, Gabriel Range’s rock biopic clearly struggles for budget. Made up of largely underfed interior studio scenes and jarring stock footage, sadly the film’s rusty mechanics are there for all to see. Which is a shame because in the first consideration of whether Johnny Flynn can sell you the idea that he is David Bowie, his performance improves after a stuttery start. Jena Malone as Angie Bowie snaps and snarls at backstage girls and label execs alike but it’s actually Marc Maron‘s faded publicist Ron who gets most of the warmth from Stardust‘s script. Dragging another wannabe Brit across the country, Maron’s Ron starts to prise apart the Bowie that is yet to bloom – and this is where the film enjoys it s most success. So, between and revelations and Ron’s tired salesman schtick, the second act feels like it might actually be getting somewhere. Sadly this is all before the third act where the movie jumps off into the future without a parachute.
You see, the biggest complaint with Stardust is that it’s not what you’d expect from a rockstar biopic and certainly not one about David Bowie. For a burgeoning talent about whom there is no shortage of anecdotal insights and humourous Spinal Tap-isms, Stardust is more earthbound when it should veer to the spectacular by its end. And that’s the job of the songs – except there aren’t any. Or at least none that you would recognise and this is where Stardust fails whereas Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman got a free pass. For whilst you may not have cared for the invented retelling of their respective histories, their music carried you through and in this movie, there’s clearly no back catalogue to fall back on.
Sadly for a road movie that rapidly runs out of road, there isn’t much to recommend here except a hint of what might have been. So whilst Bromley’s finest may have believed that “space aliens don’t mingle”, disappointingly Stardust’s space jam is one that curdles upon contact.
Time to come down, right down, Major Tom.