Sunday, August 12, 2012

Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Worried About the Boy" from 25.5.2010

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2010
As part of its Eighties series, BBC 2 recently showed "Worried About the Boy," an absorbing ninety minute biopic written by Tony Basgallop. The film told the story of the early years of George O'Dowd who, as a teenager, left a stifling home in suburbia with a naked mannequin under his arm and went to live in a squat on the outskirts of New Romantic bohemia. We follow his louche existence as a flamboyant androgynous trendsetter in and around the Blitz Club in Soho in the immediately post-punk early 1980s.

As a recreation of an era and a group of like-minded outsiders, the film worked well. The setting was authentic. The costumes and make-up were spot-on and the sound track included the obvious New Romantic anthems of the period plus what must have been seminal influences, such as the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs."

We were treated to a wonderfully lounge-lizardy Steve Strange (Marc Warren) and Spandau Ballet replicated their costumes, poses and pouts of the period. A gloriously over-the-top Mark Gatiss as Malcolm McClaren played at managing Bow Wow Wow from his gothic Highgate lair and came across somewhere between a deranged medieval pope and Colonel Parker. Freddie Fox succeeded completely as a Kay Kendall-ish Marilyn - and also contrived to appear more intelligent and attractive than the original.

George's life once he had moved to the wicked city was colourful. Douglas Booth gave a stunning performance. He did not make the mistake of presenting himself as a camp stereotype; he was openly gay and outre in his appearance and manner but, like the real Boy George, carried himself in a uniquely individual and contradictory way.

He was vulnerable and delicate, yet manly and brave, mischievous, rebellious, witty and eccentric in an appealing, very British manner.

Douglas Booth conveyed this most complex of characters with a subtle and nuanced performance, interspersed with some funny one liners -as when, wearing a nun's habit he has just enjoyed himself enormously with a man in a phone box. The man says, "I'm not really gay," and George replies "That's OK. I'm not really a nun."

The star-struck panic that engulfed the Blitz Club when every posturing wannabee's god, David Bowie visited was pointedly accurate and hilarious.

With no pun intended, George's character did have a chameleon-like quality, one moment bravely invading a suburban lounge in the middle of the night to confront a lover who has let him down and the next stealing from coats in the cloakroom of the Blitz and being sacked - whilst dressed in a Korean peasant's hat. High or low, good or bad, it has to be admitted that George was never dull or ordinary: he carried off each drama rather magnificently.

Mathew Horne also convinced as Jon Moss, the drummer of Culture Club. We see something of his insight into the music business and his hesitant relationship with George. For me however the stormy passage of their relationship and the progress of the band's career was conveyed in superficial terms and deserved sharper focus. It speaks volumes for the quality of performances of Booth and Horne that, despite the occasionally impressionistic script, they succeeded in giving such emotional depth to their characters.

The film culminates in contrasting two crises in George's life: first in 1982 when he had to be persuaded out of the back of a limo to perform Culture Club's first number one on Top of the Pops, when his relationship with Jon Moss had run its course, and secondly in 1986 when disclosure of his heroin addiction led to him being besieged in his Hampstead home by paparazzi.

This twin dramatic climax demonstrated the cruel pressures and ultimate destructiveness of fame and fortune in sobering contrast to the starstruck individualist that had set off for the squat with the dummy under his arm years before.

As a sketch of a fascinating character "Worried About the Boy" works well with arresting performances, a sound sense of period and excellent production values. Unfortunately it only adds up to a workmanlike story well-told: in a series of episodes a fragile outsider goes out into the big bad world, has lots of ups and downs and eventually reaches the top, but at a terrible cost.

If Boy George had gone to live quietly in Australia in 1986, this might have been a satisfactory biopic leaving no loose ends. The reality is however that he has continued to live a full and colourful life including brushes with the law and periodic reinvention in his career. This film chooses only to show some aspects of how our hero made it by 1982 and his trouble in 1986. Knowing what we do about George's life so far, however, the story up to 1982 or 1986 alone isn't enough: what we need to know is how he made it through the eighties, nineties and noughties to 2010.

Basically "Worried About the Boy" doesn't answer enough of our most significant questions about what made such a compelling and fascinating character tick. This is because it doesn't ask many of them. Despite its brilliant performances and accomplished sense of period, it is frustratingly incomplete. 

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