'I Used to Be Famous' review: An earnest film about fame and second chances

What makes I Used to Be Famous engaging is its sheer simplicity. The writing and acting are so natural that the film succeeds in coming off as a relatable, story-next-door kind of effort.

Published: 23rd September 2022 10:27 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd September 2022 10:28 AM   |  A+A-

I Used to Be Famous

A still from the movie 'I Used to Be Famous'

Express News Service

I Used to Be Famous scores points in the feel-good department with its music, tale of redemption and all-around performances. Its overall earnestness and charm weave their way seamlessly into the genre, making it a rather watchable film.

A has-been popstar attempting to make an unlikely comeback after his boy band’s absolute heyday twenty years ago. A gifted young drummer dealing with issues of his own. It is an odd combination from the very beginning, but it is those very partnerships that create the finest music.

A significant age gap and an over-protective mother hovering around at all times promise to derail this would-be musical duo. It’s not the most original plot out there. Neither is it as strong as other music films in the same category like Sing Street or Begin Again.

What makes I Used to Be Famous engaging is its sheer simplicity. The writing and acting are so natural that the film succeeds in coming off as a relatable, story-next-door kind of effort. Its highlight is the music, of course, rendering a relaxed, alternative, Britpop vibe to the narrative. Their first gig, in particular, is what stands out.

An interesting cover of a timeless classic in House of the Rising Sun tops off an evening that eventually goes south for the duo. The vocals, the melody, the lyrics and the musical accompaniments, they’re put together in a way that could make the OST far more famous than the film itself. 

In spite of the many heartfelt moments, it has going for it, there is something lacking in the story. For instance, the writing does not address adequately enough how Vince aka Vinnie D (Ed Skrein) lost his fame with Stereo Dream and the reason for the band’s split.

The flashbacks deal more with his guilt surrounding reduced time with his mother and sick brother due to the rigours of constant touring. The narrative doesn’t focus on the relationships between the bandmates, either. Two decades on, Austin (another primary member of Stereo Dream) has enjoyed a successful solo career, and is on the verge of his farewell tour.

While Austin isn’t a caricature or cliché (as someone who deliberately screwed Vince over), he admits to having not done enough to help his friend during the bad times. 

Again, this once-strong bond between them, and how it changed over the years, isn’t explored at all. While providing a window into their past, these backstories could have added to the overall depth of I Used to Be Famous. And lastly, the film fails to shed a light on any of the other members, which is strange. With a complete picture to work with, we could have perhaps seen why Vince ended up the way he has (broke and down on his luck). 

If the music is the highlight, the acting comes in at a close second. The central performances are all worth taking note of, with Skrein and Matsuura (playing Amber, Stevie’s hands-on mother) shining, but it is Leo Long as Stevie who impresses the most. Playing a teenage drummer with autism and a well-meaning but overprotective mum, it is his character arc that works best.

Long fits excellently into the part as we witness his character grow into himself, not just as a musician but as a person too. Stepping out of a single mother’s shadow (one who gave up all her dreams to look after him) is no mean task, and to convince her that he will be all right, despite the challenges, is perhaps Stevie’s hardest battle so far. Long portrays this complex and complicated relationship with Amber so realistically.

We understand Vince’s family situation and resultant guilt, and that he may well see in Stevie the teenage brother he lost two decades ago. And yet, this unresolved trauma cannot only be captured in scattered viewings of an old tape and an unplanned visit to see his mum.

Vince is still processing the fact that he was busy on tour when his brother passed, something that remains at the heart of his troubles. The writing works for a majority of I Used to Be Famous though more fine-tuning was needed in this area.

The film gets a tad predictable every now and then and drags as there’s far too little going on in the plot. But in its attempt to tell a universal story of fame, redemption and second chances, it does okay. As Stevie says unselfishly to Vince in a heartfelt scene towards the end, “If you have a second shot, then you really have to take it. There will never be the third shot.” 

In the boy’s sentiment lies the crux of I Used to Be Famous. 

Film: I Used to Be Famous
Director: Eddie Sternberg 
Cast: Ed Skrein, Leo Long, Eleanor Matsuura, Eoin Macken 
Streaming On: Netflix
Rating: 3/5


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