Stardust: Film Review


To celebrate the recent fifth anniversary of David Bowie’s death as well as what would have been his 74th birthday, director Gabriel Range has brought out Stardust, a biopic about the late great music icon.

Stardust stars Johnny Flynn as Bowie and focuses on his tour of America in 1971. He hopes this tour will help him crack the country and make him a big star stateside, but due to a visa issue, he’s banned from playing concerts, so he has to tour the country in his publicist Ron Oberman (Marc Maron)’s car, hitting up radio stations to promote his new album, The Man Who Sold the World, and performing low-key gigs at trade conferences. The film also delves into his relationship with his schizophrenic half-brother Terry (Derek Moran), his marriage to first wife Angie (Jena Malone), and the origins of his Ziggy Stardust persona.

The major problem with Stardust is that Bowie’s estate didn’t approve of the film or grant rights to the use of Bowie’s music, meaning this biopic doesn’t contain any of his actual music!! There’s no ignoring it; the absence of his music is glaringly obvious and the film falls flat without it. Range got around this issue by having Flynn as Bowie sing covers that the man himself performed back in the ’70s, but this obviously doesn’t have the same effect. Watching vacuum cleaner salespeople ignore Bowie’s performance doesn’t have the same impact when it’s a cover rather than a classic hit, and for the same reason, the big finale number doesn’t have the crowd-pleasing, joyous feel it should have done.

He might not look exactly like the man himself, but I thought Flynn sounded very close to the real deal, and I enjoyed his look. It’s easy to give a caricature-style performance when you’re portraying somebody so flamboyant and kooky, but thankfully, Flynn reins it in and doesn’t go over the top. He kept it reasonably grounded and gave Bowie a real sense of humanity, particularly regarding his brother’s illness. I really liked Maron as the exasperated publicist who is fed up of driving wannabes around the country, while Malone didn’t have much to do as the wife.

As I don’t know much about Bowie’s life, I found Stardust rather enlightening but I don’t think it completely worked as a biopic as it was too flimsy, thin, and jumped around a bit too much, not to mention the obvious music issue. I didn’t dislike watching it but it didn’t engage me either and I couldn’t shake the feeling something was missing. It wasn’t the celebration of Bowie’s legacy that I hoped it would be.

On digital platforms from Friday 15th January

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.