Appeal pending, Judge William Lee is a man without conviction. He comes and goes. He comes and goes.
Man to boy. Boy to icon.
Biographical films about musicians typically use the artist's hit songs to chart out the narrative. Doing so predictably places the timeline of the story during the artist's most successful years. Worried About the Boy takes a different approach with its telling of Boy George's story. Instead of focusing on the Culture Club lead vocalist's time in the spotlight, the film is concerned with George O'Dowd's search for identity and happiness before the notion of being a pop singer entered his mind. It's not quite the version of his story nostalgic fans may have expected.
Facts of the Case
In 1980, George O'Dowd (Douglas Booth, BBC's Great Expectations) moved into a London squat after leaving his parents, who would never understand his penchant for wearing make-up and dressing in flamboyant wardrobe. With his other cross-dressing friends, George became a regular at the Blitz nightclub managed by Steve Strange (Marc Warren, Wanted). Craving love and fame, George made connections with people in the British music scene and eventually fronted one of the most successful pop bands of the 1980s.
Director Julian Jarrold's (Brideshead Revisited) film excels in its recreation of the New Romanticism fashion scene driven by British New Wave music. Punk was on its way out; the androgynous look was in. At the Blitz nightclub, only the "weird and wonderful" were admitted. The movie has an energetic rock 'n' roll style complete with graphics that identify the big players populating the backgrounds of the scene. Most viewers may recognize names like Spandau Ballet and Billy Idol but there is plenty more name-dropping that only true fans of the era will know. No matter, though, since the movie is less about the music scene than about George's love life.
The London club scene of 1980 seems to be populated primarily by proud transvestites, closeted homosexuals, bisexuals and the strongly protesting curious straight. George's lovers are invariably poster boys for masculinity but they are drawn to his quasi-feminine appearance. The movie handles this hypocritical attitude as a matter of fact, without explicitly calling them homophobes. As a result, George becomes a very sympathetic character, unable to deny what he is and incapable of fully being what his lovers can accept.
Douglas Booth disappears into his role as George. The make-up and costumes play an important part too but before long I wasn't aware that I was watching an actor. Booth does so much more than mimic Boy George. Displaying confidence and vulnerability, ambition and desperation, George is portrayed with the complexity of a confused but searching young man.
The entire cast is very good but two other standouts are Marc Warren as the flashy club owner and Freddie Fox (2011's The Three Musketeers) as George's friend who dresses like Marilyn Monroe. Both actors could have simply done reasonable drag queen performances but they add layers of history and humanity to their characters. It really feels like we're getting an insider's look at this creative counter-culture and not just a campy approximation.
The DVD from Focus Features looks excellent for a standard definition presentation. The colors are bold and the image is stunningly sharp. Even in low light scenes the picture is stable and good detail is preserved. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio is mostly satisfying. Music and the overall environmental soundscape are strong but dialogue isn't always clear. This may be partly due to the accents but sometimes the actors' voices just seemed to be too quiet relative to the rest of the scene. Fortunately, the optional English subtitles accurately reflect the script almost all of the time.
The disc is short on extras, supplying a short trailer and a 10-minute making-of featurette. The director and some of the actors provide sound bites while the crew prepares to shoot a few scenes. The real George O'Dowd is also seen visiting the set but he doesn't sit down for an interview.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Worried About the Boy takes a different approach to the musical biopic and that's both rewarding and frustrating. It's great to have a movie centered on the person but the absence of the music is a problem. The one performance of Culture Club's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" is saved to the very end of the movie. At that point, it feels like the story is about to get really interesting. Alas, that's when the credits start to roll. While the telling of George's story seems emotionally authentic, denying us the hit tunes makes the movie feel like an unauthorized telling.
George O'Dowd is credited as a consultant on the movie but it's not clear how much of the script by Tony Basgallop (Hotel Babylon) is the official story. To its credit the script treats George like a fully realized character rather than a pop culture curiosity. The performances and the recreation of the 1980s club scene with equal parts glam and grit are superb. However, the movie ends just when it should move into its next act. It feels truncated to fit into a 90-minute running time and that's the only aspect of the movie's construction that reveals it was made for TV. Nevertheless, it is a sensitive portrayal of sexual identity and an informative telling of a particular time in pop culture.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Focus Features
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