A second chance in life doesn't come easy. But when it does come, will you take it or let it slip away again? British director Eddie Sternberg's feature debut I Used To Be Famous is a musical drama about a South London fairytale that involves a culture clash between a washed-up singer and a musically talented young man with autism who form an odd friendship and go on a musical venture in hope of a new chance in life.
The premise of I Used To Be Famous is simple and straightforward. It's basically Hugh Grant's Music And Lyrics (2007), but without the rom-com. This new Netflix movie is predictable, but that's not entirely bad as it doesn't try too hard to be anything more than a simple story about two people bonding and going through the hardships of their professional and personal lives. And it does its job quite well in this regard.
The film stars Ed Skrein (Deadpool) who plays the role of Vince, a former 90s boy band member struggling to make a living following his passion for music 20 years after his glory days ended. One day while preparing to busk on the streets, he encounters another musician named Stevie, an autistic teenager who is a gifted drummer, played by neurodiverse musician Leo Long. The two soon strike up a friendship and bond over their shared love for music. They decide to take the next step and start their own band together, potentially providing Vince with a second chance and Stevie the opportunity to prove his skills as a musician.
The arc of the two characters is moderately interesting. Vince is a singer/songwriter and a sympathetic character trying to pursue his passion for music but he keeps hitting a brick wall and can never find the fame he once had. He also struggles with his personal life the way many other people do, making it easy to relate to him and what he goes through in the movie. The other main character Stevie is a gifted drummer who possesses an uncanny level of talent despite having zero professional experience and keeps getting held back by his overprotective mother.
I do appreciate how autism is portrayed in this movie. Long is in fact a neurodiverse person in real life and he does a great job in his debut performance. Normally, we see autistic characters in movies often depicted as either super intelligent or completely mentally handicapped without any grey area in between. Stevie's character is much more nuanced as he's able to socialise with others properly and express his feelings while still having some typical autism characteristics. The relationship shared between the two is the heart and soul of this story, whether it be when they get along or when there's a conflict between them. It does prove to be an inspiring watch. It was also interesting how the movie portrayed and explored the dark side of the music industry and the cutthroat nature of everything involved with it.
However, despite being a story about music, I found the live performances and the music written for the main characters to be the weakest part of the movie. Although we get to see quite a few songwriting and band rehearsal montages, there's only one song for an entire movie, called Feel The Change, which isn't even good. It's a synth-pop tune with uninspiring lyrics and terrible off-key singing by Vince. There's a moment in the film where the duo get booed off stage as the crowd yells that their song sucks. Instead of feeling bad for them, I secretly agreed with the crowd about how dull their performance was.
I wish there were more original songs written for them in the movie, especially when their music gets more recognition later in the story.
Overall, while I Used To Be Famous isn't a movie with anything original and is quite predictable, at its core it's still an interesting underdog tale where the main characters fight their way to the top overcoming whatever lies ahead in their path. It's a feel-good story about second chances.