Staggering onto our screens this week comes Grace Of Monaco, a little punch-drunk from its Cannes mauling but ready to run the critical gauntlet again. It’s just your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-falls-for-girl, boy-gets-distracted-by-battle-to-save-tax-haven romance. But poor Grace Kelly isn’t the only public figure to have their memory exposed to the horrors of a shonky biopic. Oddly, it’s often the deeply unjust who flourish in these big-screen treatments (Hitler, Idi Amin, Macbeth), while the great and good find themselves in sub-par biopics. With that in mind, here are a few of the princess’s fellow casualties.
Audiences are canny when it comes to sniffing out an Oscar-grasping biopic and this one ponged like some kind of Academy Award-shaped cheese stack. Doing most of the whiffing is Robin Williams as Patch Adams, a doctor-cum-prankster who, in Tom Shadyac’s film, appears to have flunked out of a medical school run by Russ Abbot. He sets about cheering up terminally ill kids with japes and life lessons so mawkish and saccharine that they had exactly the opposite effect on viewers. Even the normal amiable Gene Siskel snarked that he wanted to have it renamed ‘Punch Adams’. ‘The Shtick And The Dying’ might have worked too.
brightcove.createExperiences();With Monsoon Wedding director Mira Nair doing the whole chocks-away thing on this story of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, a sense of adventure and flamboyance would, you’d assume, come with the territory. Not so. Like Jimmy Stewart’s equally polite Charles Lindbergh flick The Spirit Of St. Louis, there’s nothing wrong with the casting (Hilary Swank makes a good Earhart and wears some excellent hats) but there’s a flatness in the telling that fails to engage. This old-fashioned Hollywood stodge might have been leavened by the sight of Richard Gere doing a spontaneous Spitfire impression but, alas, that fails to materialise.
brightcove.createExperiences();Downfall director Oliver Hirschbiegel directed a Princess Diana biopic so bad it could have been a 113-minute meme hosted on Funny Or Di. Bum notes abound in its telling of the Princess’s affair with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan in a cockeyed script, but the pastel sentimentality of the direction, a world and several million Russian shells away from the gritty realism of Hirschbiegel’s Hitler biopic, files away all the rough edges that might have made this watchable. Naomi Watts pours herself into the role but would probably wish this one expunged from her IMBd page.
Yes, this movie has been released, although you’d be forgiven for not having noticed. It crept almost apologetically into US cinemas, as if ashamed to have had the temerity to cast as one of the maths-and-marketing geniuses of our time that bloke from Dude, Where's My Car?. In fairness, Ashton Kutcher is a reasonable physical match for the young Steve Jobs and does a mostly decent job as the computer wizard whose ego, drive and occasionally erratic people skills should make a combustible mix. Alas, the script, unenlightening for anyone even vaguely familiar with Jobs’ story, funnels all that the history into a few tiresome scenes of Shouting and Pointing At Monitors. A 404 error message of a biopic.
brightcove.createExperiences();This won two Oscars, which, when you think about it, is as many as Raging Bull, a biopic that sits at the opposite end of the quality spectrum. Neither of those wins – Best Make-up and Best Actress – were undeserved and Meryl Streep is typically classy and meticulous in her portrayal of Maggie Thatcher, but for Brits of a certain age at least, the film feels strangely inauthentic and pedestrian. The device of having Jim Broadbent’s ghostly Denis Thatcher stalk through the fast-ailing Maggie’s field of vision comes off as oddly ghoulish, like a tea-and-biscuits Flatliners, and the other half of the split timeline barely does justice to the Tory superhero’s rise to power.
brightcove.createExperiences();If there’s one upside for Julian Assange in being trapped inside Ecuadorian embassy, it’s that he couldn’t get to the cinema to see the film they made about him. A movie that really tested the loyalty of Benedict Cumberbatch’s devout fanbase, The Fifth Estate had all the ingredients of a rip-roaring Bourne-meets-All-The-President’s-Men thriller, but turned out more like The Net in a bad wig. West Wing scribe Josh Singer clearly left his Sorkin touch in Washington, because the lumpen dialogue and hammy set-pieces undermine a thoroughly decent cast (Cumberbatch, Capaldi, Brühl, Thewlis). For Assange’s sake, we can only hope the embassy DVD is broken too.
brightcove.createExperiences();A movie that signalled the death of fun, the turgid J. Edgar is probably no more than its subject deserved. After all, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a bit of a card, what with the phone-tapping, snooping and relentless finger-printing. But even with lurid chapters in American history like John Dillinger’s shooting and the Lindbergh kidnapping to rattle through, this pulseless biography is forgettable in the extreme. DiCaprio, buried beneath more rubber than a fetish party at the Michelin Man’s house, seems uneasy in a role that admittedly involves unactorly amounts of paperwork. One for fans of filing only.
This Bobby Darin bio is a Kevin Spacey passion project that Spacey wrote, directed, produced and starred in. He also did all his own crooning, studying Michael Bublé to prep for the role, and probably manned the craft services truck during his lunchbreaks. All that commitment and behind-the-mic vim, though, doesn’t quite translate into a winning portrayal of the entertainer. Spacey had a fair few more miles on the clock than Darin, who was 37 when he died and is portrayed here as a pup from the Bronx, and it’s hard not to think that Leonardo DiCaprio or even a young Johnny Depp, both linked with the role at one time or other, would have been a better fit.
Yes, someone somewhere thought John Wayne would make a good Genghis Khan. JOHN WAYNE. Until someone picks Julian Sands to play Pol Pot, this will remain a nadir in the history of casting. In truth, it was the Duke himself, mysteriously smitten by a script that called for him to say things like “I feel this Tartar woman is for me” and “My blood says take her”, who pushed this Howard Hughes project onto the screen. The result is less a straight biopic and more a weird pre-Tinder dating scenario in which a man with a comedy moustache and a natty yak hat swipes a woman’s entire village off the map and takes her (on the advice of his blood, obviously) for his bride. Disappointingly, at no time does anyone shout “KHAAAAAN!”.
A man of gargantuan talent and appetites, lionised by his public, John Goodman might have made a decent Babe Ruth in a less deadening movie than The Babe. Here, though, two heroes are brought low by a mix of crummy dialogue, gloomy plot beats and a by-the-numbers arc that begins with Ruth’s grim upbringing in an orphanage and ends with his senescence as a baseballing circus art. There are decent baseball biopics out there (The Pride Of The Yankees, Cobb and 42) but this one is an experience Roger Ebert likened to being crammed on a long-distance bus “next to a big guy with beer and cigars on his breath and nothing to talk about but his next meal and his last broad”. The Bambino deserved better.
brightcove.createExperiences();Even with the inside track afforded by its source, Neon Angel: A Memoir Of A Runaway by original Runaways’ vocalist Cherie Currie, there’s little insight or character development in this rote rock flick. Kristen Stewart’s surly cool shines through as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning makes an often electrifying punk princess as Currie, while the ever-watchable Michael Shannon underpins the tension as the band’s sleazy-seductive impresario Kim Fowley, but there’s still that sapping sense of so-whatness that undermines so many biopics as all the hedonism palls and writer/director Floria Sigismondi dips into the rock cliché handbook.
Innocent but painfully twee, if this Beatrix Potter biopic were one of her characters it would be called Mr Movie-Woovy. Renée Zellweger is on her perkiest form as the famous children’s scribe – prepared to go full nutkins when Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck come to animated life on screen – while Babe director Chris Noonan delivers the Lake District porn and Ewan McGregor has a moustache so bushy it must have needed its own trailer, but the storytelling doesn’t exert the same pull on the heartstrings as fellow literary biopics Finding Neverland or Shadowlands.
According to the trailer, this is “the motion picture that Hollywood never wanted to be made”. Hollywood might have been on to something. It’s billed as “the laughs and times of John Belushi” – and that’s about as close as it gets to humour. While the Bob Woodward book on which it’s based is great, the device of putting Woodward in the film and having him told the story by Belushi’s ghost is, well, bloody awful. Michael Chiklis gives it his all in the central role, but there’s only one John Belushi and he can’t quite nail that manic edge.
brightcove.createExperiences();It’s a great injustice when a young actor who just happens to have a lot of fans is dismissed as a heartthrob despite his best efforts, and we wouldn’t dream of rejecting this Jeff Buckley film, sight-unseen, on the basis of Penn Badgley’s casting. Having seen it, however, we can reject it on the basis of a story that frames Jeff Buckley’s life as one dominated by a crippling father complex and enlivened only by a teen movie-style romance.
OK, this is a TV movie, but it’s a TV movie so surpassingly bad that it earns a place among its big-screen rivals. The on-again, off-again romance between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was legendarily tempestuous and passionate, but this effort turns it into an incoherent soap opera narrated by the pair from, what, the astral plane? They sit in black turtlenecks and reflect on their own lives in a disastrous piece of staging, while onscreen they fall in love with no clear preamble and Lindsay Lohan tries to convince us she’s a brunette. We’re not fooled, lady!