The Rant: Enough with the Bloody Biopics Already!
Bloody biopics; they’re everywhere, they’re all-popular, they’re all-consuming monuments to mediocrity and I am sick of them.
It seems to me year on year more sordid biopics are released; The Iron Lady, Invictus, My Week with Marilyn, Milk, La Vie En Rose… the list goes on and on. They’re becoming evermore popular and saturating the market to an obscene level with every awards season now having at least one in the frame for *something*. Bah.
Why the hatred? Well, without wanting to sound too snobby (doubtless I will anyway) most of them are just so middle-of-the-road, uninspired and ordinary. Of the films in the list above not one feels like it has passion behind the lens and short of some impressive imitations (more on that shortly), they’re thoroughly unremarkable in terms of script, originality and genuine emotional weight.
Actors and actresses see biopics as a sure-fire way to land an Academy Award nomination, if only for a convincing level of mimicry. Let’s not forget that in 2004 Jamie Foxx won an Oscar for his performance in the overlong, forgettable Ray. He won an Oscar. And what did he follow that up with? Stealth, which everyone forgot about before it was even released. The following year Phillip Seymour Hoffman won for Capote and then a year after that it was Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland. I’ve no doubt that the performances involve a great deal of effort and obsessive studying of documentary footage in order to perfect the posture, the speech pattern and such but at their highest aspiration the performances are simply a perfect imitation.
The Iron Lady best typifies my argument against biopics; rather than try and breathe life into the controversies that surrounded Margaret Thatcher (there are enough of them!) it instead concentrates on her glory days in office and evoking as much sympathy for her as possible due to her current dementia and old age. Without wanting to sound too Daily Mail it’s actually quite revolting. Even as a Northerner I have massive respect simply for her bravery in the face of adversity but we’re not treated to much, if any, of that. Rather we see her as frail old lady, struggling with modern life. Grrr.
Now biopics aren’t always boring things, I was blown away by Gainsbourg: Vie Heroique. Mainly because it is everything that the traditional biopic isn’t. It’s original and daring. Based upon a graphic novel rather than a simple autobiography, the zaniness of the source material shines through. To get a look inside the tortured soul of France’s most popular musician the film uses a semi-imaginary caricature of Serge Gainsbourg, can you imagine My Week With Marilyn choosing a similar tactic for the famously-troubled Marilyn Monroe?
In some cases biopics are simply unnecessary. What would be more potent is a well-directed documentary. Senna, a documentary of the famous F1 driver, is much more of a triumph than any dramatic film could have been. It is interesting, it is electric, it is emotional and, perhaps most important of all, it was more involving that 90% of the biopics that are released. By the end of Senna there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, not because of the director/writer endlessly pulling on our heartstrings, but because the tragic end to his life is sad, without needing to milk it.
I’ll be the first to admit that calling a film a ‘biopic’ is open-ended. Technically Moneyball’s a biopic of Billy Beane, as is The Social Network with regards to Mark Zuckerburg. Even Raging Bull could be considered. Does my vitriol extend to these you’re asking? Of course not. The films that bare the brunt of my hatred are the ones that are released about super famous people that take extra special care not to offend anyone.
A good biopic takes an ordinary person, who did extraordinary things and makes them a household name through a mixture of the persons own exploits and some breathtaking filmmaking (Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Lawrence of Arabia). A bad one (and this is the majority) takes a household name and makes them a faultless beacon to humanity (I’m looking at you specifically Invictus) through over-sweetness and sentimentality.
Still, little difference this one film fan will make, in the next 12 months we’re scheduled to have Lincoln, Hitchcock, The Girl (also about Alfred Hitchcock), Mercury (Freddie Mercury), Crossface (WWE wrestler Chris Benoit, would you believe) and don’t be too surprised to see a Tupac and Whitney Houston one in the coming years. Sigh.
- Film Review: The Iron Lady (filmophilia.com)