The unusual biopic "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" is a quintessentially British excursion into the punk rock scene circa the 1970's. In a highly stylized fashion, director Mat Whitecross has tweaked expected musical biography conventions to dramatize the life of Ian Dury (Ian Dury and the Blockheads). This chaotic entertainment has many strengths and begins with a flourish of visual mischief to introduce Dury as a showman before settling into a more conventional narrative approach. If you are a fan of Dury or, indeed punk rock, then recommending "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" seems an easy task. However, if you have yet to be initiated, the film may be a little harder to sell. As with most films of this nature, Dury's artistry and talent are influenced by a troubled past and, quite frankly, his depiction does not always present the most pleasant of viewing experiences. At times, though, I don't know that "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" went far enough. Dury's debauchery seemed perfectly palatable to everyone in his immediate circle--until it wasn't. There was a certain lack of focus on developing supporting characters which made it unclear as to when they thought he was behaving badly.
But I'm jumping ahead. Dury is played with mush gusto by Andy Serkis (and yes, I'm one of the nerds who thinks his performance as Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" was worthy of an Oscar nomination). Serkis was a nominated for a BAFTA for this larger than life portrayal, and it's easy to see why. The film chronicles Dury's childhood battle with polio and outlines his relationships with his absentee father (Ray Winstone), his put-upon wife (Olivia Williams), and his nubile life partner (Naomie Harris). But most of the dramatic heft is saved for Dury's troubled, yet remarkably sane, relationship with his son (Bill Milner). Strangely enough, Dury's musical accomplishments are given fairly short shrift. If you have no preexisting knowledge of the rise of Dury's career, don't expect "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" to connect all the dots. How he became a success still seems a bit vague to me. For the first half of the film he sat at home writing. Than, with no transition or explanation, he was playing sold out concert halls.
In truth, I would have appreciated more exposition. I feel that "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" kept me at a distance from the real Dury. As I mentioned, aside from Milner, it seems that the entire cast exists to react to Dury without being fully formed as characters in their own right. So this left me a little cold. But, if anything, there's still Serkis and his dynamic performance. His scenes with Milner are easily the most effective and affecting dramatic moments in the film. And anytime Serkis performs a number, "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" ignites! The musical sequences have terrific flair, drama, and urgency.
The DVD presentation includes a featurette with the film's director, interviews, commentary, and deleted scenes. They are an enlightening peak inside the passion that brought this film to fruition as it was clearly a personal project for Whitecross. In the end, "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" was a good, if sometimes incomplete, look at Dury. I retained an emotional distance throughout the picture, but was captivated by the music, the period details, and especially by the incomparable Serkis! And there's no denying, the picture goes out with a bang! KGHarris, 1/11.