SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL is a fast-paced, manically inter-cut biopic of Ian Dury, New Wave singer, genius wordsmith, ladies man and radical. Born working class, crippled by polio, trained by Peter Blake, married to a middle-class portrait painter, father to two kids, living in suburbia. That's how we meet Dury - a punk radical playing shitty pubs with a dodgy band, desperate for fame, and deeply at odds with his suburban home life. Somehow his wife puts up with his shit, even when he shacks up with a pretty West Indian girl much younger than him and moves out. Somehow the Kilburn and the High Roads turn into The Blockheads, the seminal songs are written, and the money comes rolling in. Before you know it, Dury and his crew are in a swanky rented country house, generally pissing about and not getting much work done. His girlfriend and wife are both simultaneously in love and at wits end with him. His young son is much loved but exposed to drugs and not much schooling. His young daughter is basically ignored. The End.
If the plot summary above seemed to have no structure, well, neither does the film. It survives as entertainment purely on the strength, charisma and sheer bravado of Andy Serkis' (best known as Gollum) leading performance. You get a good sense of Dury as wordsmith but you don't really get how he became famous. One minute he's playing pubs, the next he's famous. You never get how his character might have changed. His girlfriend Denise (Naomie Harris) complains that fame has changed him, but the audience doesn't see it. He just seems as much of an egotistical but charming arse as ever. His wife (Olivia Williams) evolves - moves on - but Dury never changes. He's just too clever by half, too selfish by half, and a lot of fun to be around.
If you love Ian Dury's music, you'll get a kick out of this film. Serkis is genius, and ably supported by Olivia Williams and Naomie Harris. But if you don't know who Ian Dury is, this film isn't going to help. You get a lot of stuff about his early life, but it doesn't tell you about art school and how he became a radical performer. You get the starting point (the film posits that being crippled was the defining change) and the final product, but nothing inbetween. You don't have a clue why he's married to an RA.
So, all in all, this is a great little film that could've done with a bit more substance, and a bit more exposition, a little more context.... As it is, it's unlikely to get an audience beyond the core fanbase. Still, anything that makes you dust off your old vinyl, it's no bad things.
SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL is on release in the UK.
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