There are many great and enjoyable music biopics, from Amadeus to Ray. But it’s a tricky genre. Lots of musicians have interesting things about their lives, most notably their great success, but not enough to really drive a two hour film. So filmmakers have to stretch and dramatize, drilling down on the important aspects without just making shit up. Some films succeed wildly, some leave a bit to be desired. And then there are these:
6. The Doors (1991)
Oliver Stone’s trademark off-kilter direction is both the worst and best thing about what is ultimately a terrible caricature of Doors frontman Jim Morrison as a buffoonish alcohol and drug addict. I mean, he probably was that, but he wasn’t JUST that, right? Right? The movie also spends almost no time on the other members of the band, except in the context of Morrison’s bullshit. Anyway, Val Kilmer’s singing is pretty good.
5. Great Balls of Fire (1989)
I have it firsthand from a key member of this film’s production that it was fuelled almost entirely by cocaine. This might explain Dennis Quaid’s manic, one-dimensional, cartoonish performance as the great Jerry Lee Lewis. The man who legitimately earned himself the nickname “The Killer” appears here as nothing more than a backwoods hick who was in the right place at the right time. His gifted musicianship and epic performances are footnotes.
I will watch this movie anytime it’s on TV.
4. The Beach Boys: An American Family (2000)
Mike Love acolyte John Stamos produced this made-for-TV biopic that overinflates the former’s talent and influence on the band’s best music. In this film, Brian Wilson is, at best, an idiot savant, badly acted and such a stupid goof that he’s literally lured off the path of recovery by bags of greasy food and the promise of drugs, like Bugs Bunny floating after the scent of a fresh-baked carrot cake. That happened, right? At least Dennis Wilson gets taken seriously. Mostly.
3. Meat Loaf: To Hell and Back (2000)
Talented character actor W. Earl Brown plays the 1970’s most unlikely superstar, Meat Loaf. This is just low-budget all around, and—as with many of VH-1’s “Movies That Rock” treats the music as an afterthought. You would think from this film that he only released two records. Collaborator Jim Steinman gets his proper due, but producer Todd Rundgren does not.
2. Take Me Home: The John Denver Story (2000)
2000 was a bad year for biopics and for poor Chad Lowe, who was playing John Denver in this piece of shit while longtime girlfriend Hilary Swank was forgetting to mention him in Oscar acceptance speech. Conversations at home must have been awkward. Anyway, this film has a serious lack of Muppets and never mentions Denver’s scandalous gasoline hoarding in an underground tank during the oil crisis. Dude was living atop a mountain full of gasoline. OK, maybe that’s going too far, but it’s funny to imagine.
1. Daydream Believers: The Monkees’ Story (2000)
Garbage. Bad in so many ways—from the acting, to the storyline, to the “artistic” liberties taken by the filmmakers. I think they were trying to mimic some of the goofy slapstick of The Monkees (TV show), but needless to say it did not work, especially as they seemed to go randomly in and out of that gimmick, without explanation. We see that The Monkees are intent on being taken seriously as musicians, but are shown little evidence that they deserve to be (though there were varying degrees of real talent in the band—Mike Nesmith in particular turned out to be a really good songwriter), and there is no mention of any particular Monkee albums. Finally, the story and timeline is pretty manufactured. The band carried on in different configurations as key members left and returned. The worst music biopic of all time.
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