Status Quo have ensured the demise of the pop star feature film forever more - and it's a shame

Bula Quo! might be tired, naive and desperately middle-of-the-road, but spare the pop-film genre! I can't be the only one who looks at Rizzle Kicks or Dizzee Rascal and thinks: give those kids a movie.

The pain experienced while watching Bula Quo!, the movie debut of Status Quo, can be dulled slightly by speculating about which stand-up comic will eventually get to demolish the film when it makes its inevitable appearance as part of the Bad Film Club. I saw a particularly fine Stewart Lee takedown of King Arthur at the Barbican six or seven years ago. But maybe applying the same treatment to Bula Quo! would be too easy, like shooting denim-clad fish in a barrel. For all its toe-curling awfulness, the film does exude a startling innocence; in fact, that naivety is bound up with how bad it is—the obliviousness to its own rough edges, the cavalier “will this do?” air which will always predominate whenever a project is engineered as a holiday first and a movie second. (This may not technically be the case, but it feels that way. More love is lavished on shooting the Fijian locations than ensuring that the screenplay makes sense or that the cast consistently exhibit vital signs.)

The conceit of the film is that Status Quo are in Fiji to play a show when their frontmen Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt (you know—the ones who always knock heads for a chucklesome conversation in the middle of their guitar solos) witness a murder. Following this, they are pursued by thugs employed by a snarling crime boss. The good news? The villain is played by the US comic actor Jon Lovitz. The bad news? Lovitz looks lost and despondent and entirely unsure of where he is or what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s not the only one. When I say that Rossi and Parfitt are playing themselves, I wouldn’t want you to underestimate the skill required; perhaps only the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis or Christian Bale could render realistically a screen incarnation of the Quo legends. That job certainly seems beyond the talents of Rossi and Parfitt. But let’s not be too harsh. Can acting really be said to be poor when no visible attempt is being made to act in the first place? It’s an important philosophical conundrum.

My disappointment at Bula Quo! may seem strange, but I feel slightly as though I had a horse in this race. I’ve always been fond of films in which musicians and pop stars play versions of themselves. It doesn’t happen so much these days but think of the Dave Clark Five in John Boorman’s first film, Catch Us If You Can, or Madness in the underrated Take It Or Leave It. The latter picture has an endearing, improvisatory looseness right from the cobbled–together opening sequence showing the band killing time at Gatwick by slapping Madness stickers on the backs of unsuspecting friends and members of the public alike.

And let’s not forget the film on which a thousand childhood dreams of the pop life were founded: Help!, which showed the Beatles all living in the same house. As if that wasn’t cool enough, each band member entered their shared abode through his own separate front door. Imagine how that would work for the Arcade Fire or So Solid Crew. (Or, for that matter, The Fall. Can you really picture Mark E Smith giving anyone else a door key?) There have been occasional examples of this anachronistic species of music film in recent decades—Spiceworld The Movie, the would-be trippy All Saints caper Honest, S Club 7's Seeing Double and the seriously strange Pet Shop Boys film It Couldn't Happen Here. Eminem and 50 Cent also starred in versions of their own rags-to-riches stories: 8 Mile and Get Rich or Die Tryin’ respectively.

But the most recent examples of pop stars branching out into cinema (the Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber) have all been concert films or documentaries; even the upcoming One Direction movie, from Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock, will be a behind-the-scenes job rather than, say, a fictional narrative in which the twinkle-eyed boys bring about peace in the Middle East (I’m just brainstorming here, you understand). Once the world claps eyes on Bula Quo! (or doesn’t), I know that this species of pop/film crossover has little chance of undergoing a resurgence. It’s a shame. I can’t be the only person who looks at Rizzle Kicks or Dizzee Rascal and thinks: give those kids a movie.

Bula Quo! is released on Friday.

Rich Parfitt and Francis Ross of the Quo(tidian) on location in Fiji.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Moving on up: why Ira Sachs is king of the "Rightmovie"

Little Men reminds us that Sachs is the the cinematic poet laureate of the gentrification drama.

There’s a nauseating moment at the end of the 1986 film Stand By Me when the narrator reflects on his childhood. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12,” he sighs. “Jesus, does anyone?” That sort of retroactive idealism is a temptation for any coming-of-age movie, but the writer-director Ira Sachs resists it in Little Men. His film charts the blossoming friendship between two 13-year-old boys, Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri), without stooping to suggest that what they have is somehow purer than anything in the adult world. It isn’t – it’s just subject to different forces. Sachs captures the concentrated joy of youthful larks and loyalty but he is as wise as Fassbinder ever was to the impact of economic and social pressures on our emotional choices.

It’s clear that the film will be discreet from the way the cinematographer, Óscar Durán, shoots Jake and Tony from behind during their first meeting, as though permitting the boys a modicum of privacy away from our prying eyes. Sachs has a knack for finding those pockets of quiet in the hubbub. The opening shot puts the reserved, feminine-faced Jake at his school desk; he’s the still point in the midst of chaos. He takes whatever life – or, in this case, his classmates – can throw at him.

Then Jake gets a bombshell: his grand­father has died. His father, Brian (Greg Kinnear), and mother, Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), move with him into the old man’s building in Brooklyn. Downstairs is a cluttered dress shop that was being leased to Tony’s mother, Leonor (Paulina García), at a cut-price rate that failed to take into account the property boom. Jake’s father considers himself a sensitive man – he is an actor – ­preparing for a production of The Seagull but his life has just become The Cherry Orchard. Family members advise him to jack up the rent or boot out Leonor.

Kinnear conveys the honest terror of a kind man staring into the depths of his conscience and not liking what he finds. García, the star of the superb Gloria, is brave enough to make her character actively disagreeable at times. In her most complex scene, she sacrifices the moral high ground and overplays her hand with a single rash remark.

Yet Little Men belongs to the little men. Sensing the tremors of discord between their families, Jake and Tony stick together. They skate through the streets in a blur as the camera struggles to keep sight of them behind trees and parked cars while the propulsive score by Dickon Hinchliffe of Tindersticks urges them on.

As Tony, Barbieri is the find of the film. He’s twitchy and gangly, his voice a scratchy drawl that belongs to a bourbon-soaked barfly. No one has swaggered through Brooklyn with such aplomb since John Travolta at the beginning of Saturday Night Fever. Then he’ll do something impulsive, such as hugging his sobbing mother by wrapping his long arms all the way around her and clutching her head to his chest, and suddenly he’s a baby again.

With this and Love Is Strange – about a middle-aged gay couple forced to live separately due to financial difficulties – Sachs has appointed himself the cinematic poet laureate of gentrification-based drama. (Call it the dawn of the Rightmovie.) But he isn’t a tub-thumper. He and his co-writer, Mauricio Zacharias, show simply and plainly how money alters everything. Durán shoots the Brooklyn locations in a crisp, summery light that mirrors this straightforwardness. Any poetry springs from the everyday, such as the night-time shot in which blurred blobs of colour from streetlights and headlamps suggest dabs of paint on a palette.

Even the editing (by Mollie Goldstein) speaks volumes. The sudden cut from the gaudy clamour of a disco, where Tony wears a glow band around his neck like a fallen halo, to the chill calm of the subway platform evokes acutely that plunging feeling when the fun is over. As the boys wait for the train, their faces are framed in unsmiling repose in a shot that calls to mind Simon and Garfunkel on the cover of Bookends. And we all know what happened to them. 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times