This film, something of a Citizen Kane of rock half-fictions, does one thing truly brilliantly. Rather than make a film in the style of its own time (1998, hardly a memorable year in film), it makes a film timeless – it could have been made at any time between 1984 and today, and none would be the wiser. What it comes down to, then, is whether the aesthetic of the time appeals to the viewer.
It is certainly tough to watch some of the antics with a completely straight face, but again the advantage of the movie is that director Todd Haynes doesn’t ask us to. The ridiculousness is inherent here, but it refrains from making fun of the musicians portrayed here – or buying into their hype too much, the mistake most other films about rock stars make.
The acting is often brilliant, with the actors inhabiting the roles they portray with remarkable conviction. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is arguably the star of the film, though the protagonist is, structurally speaking, Christian Bale’s character. It was Ewan McGregor that ultimately steals the spotlight, inhabiting his role unabashedly. His character manages to remain somehow positive despite all the scummy details – a distinction Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character does not earn, due precisely to being the subject of the film, which causes detachment from his true nature.
Ultimately, the film may be slightly overlong, but not overly so. It scared away audiences which were not prepared for it in 1998, and it apparently still does the same as evidenced by the audience’s reaction in the viewing I was in; and I’m glad – no honest portrayal of glam rock could do otherwise.