All Too Real
Now, this is coming from a guy who up till four years ago thought BioPic was pronounced Bi-ah-pic (and has defended the latter as being more lyrical and pleasant to say). So, take my critique with a grain of salt. Also, I see a lot of movies and pretty rarely skip a film just because its roots are embedded in a real person's REAL life. I'm not MAD at Biopics (Whereas I am MAD at most Robin Williams movies). I'm just noting a constant disappointment in their reason for being.
To me, Biopics are like punching in the cheat code for making a moving, emotional picture. You're getting an unfair advantage and too easy an excuse by being able to say, hey, this is just how it happened. Audience members will give you the benefit of the doubt on poor filmmaking or one-note performances because it all seems in service of creating something REAL. But it's not the performances that kill me. Honestly, I loved Jamie Foxx in Ray and would change my whole tune on BioPics if more actors took their roles to the place Cate Blanchett takes Katharine Hepburn. But both those movies are also the whole reason for this rant.
In particular, in Ray, there's the whole rehab finish – basically the last 20 minutes of the film – where the movie loses so much credibility because the scene is a such a desperate plea FOR credibility. He gets the shivers. He gets the sweats. He throws up. It's SO REAL. This really might be fodder for another post about how I don't think rehab scenes should be allowed in films anymore. We get it. Beating a drug addiction makes you sweaty and nauseous and requires a lonesome sequestering. But I digress. The point is there seems to be very little actual artistic thought going into scenes like this. Ray Charles's life was clearly a conflicted one but watching it in awe isn't enough of a payoff for me.
Another scene for which I could use a moratorium is the 20s, 30s big band dancehall scenes that permeate movies like The Aviator. Yeah, yeah, I'm sure there were big bands and lots of people dancing like fricking dancing experts back in the day but these scenes are as completely claustrophobic as the aforementioned rehab scenes. Go back to party scenes in Goodfellas and these kinds of party moments strike a far richer, more original chord (the tracking shot into the mafia club). In The Aviator, these kinds of parties are too picture-perfect. There's no quirk. And the music is wildly faceless. I worry that the Scorcher is falling into the BioPic trap – a kind of uniform conventionality attributed to certain types of scenes. When you have a character in rehab, it must look like this. When you go to a party in the 20s, it must be glamorous like this. And so on.
Quirk. That's what I want. That's not what BioPics are looking for. But there are exceptions. Scorzy – for one – just needs to check out Goodfellas and try and get back to that mode of thinking. I mean, that's a Biopic that gets it right. The trick I think is choosing real stories that aren't about larger-than-life figures. The most successful BioPics – and by successful I mean fun/good/original/NOTmelodramatic – are the ones about people I've never heard of. I think when you're dealing with a legend or star or very quotable historical figure, you're probably setting yourself up for a movie with little to no artistic innovation. Unless, you approach that giant star from a peripheral angle. See Melvin and Howard for an example of truly weird BioPicness.
Too often, I'm reminded of the junior high school timeline assignment. BioPics are like REALLY pretty timelines. Oh, Gandhi was doing that during that year (Gandhi)? Oh, Hitler was in that part of the bunker on that day (Downfall)? Ah, I didn't know the guy who wrote Peter Pan had that kind of haircut during that winter (Finding Neverland).
Lastly, BioPics win way too many Oscars. Not to be a Mainstream Moaner (distant cousin to the Nervous Nellie) but I find it hard to trust one "kind" of movie that is almost automatically considered for an Academy Award. The BioPic gives a false impression of "seriousness." And for that – amidst other things – I am annoyed with these movies Inspired by a True Story, Based on Real Events or Finally, The Story That Must Be Told.
That being said, here are some that I like:
1) Ed Wood
3) Raging Bull (after making this and Goodfellas, he's got some money in the bank for making bad BioPics if he wants. It's just a shame)
4) Malcolm X
6) The Insider (tho… I really just remember liking it. Not the biggest of impressions)
7) Citizen Kane (but it doesn't really count)
And a bunch I don't:
1) The Last Emperor
2) The Doors
5) The Hurricane
6) Man on the Moon
8) A Beautiful Mind
9) Lawrence of Arabia
10) The People Vs. Larry Flynt
11) Gorillas in the Mist
14) Great Balls of Fire
15) Schindler's List (I should see it first)
16) Kundun (Scorsese, you crazy!)
17) Cleopatra (the worst)
19) The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
20) Evita (although I guess the musical angle was kind of risky)
Wait. I saw Evita?