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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Women on the edge: new films Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women

With their claustrophobic close-ups and desolate wide shots, both films are stunning portraits of life on the brink.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Christine Chubbuck may not have had much in common in real life – the former briefly the US first lady, the latter a put-upon television news reporter in the early 1970s in Sarasota, Florida – but two new films named after them are cut resolutely from the same cloth. Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women in which the claustrophobic close-up and the desolate wide shot are the predominant forms of address.

Both films hinge on fatal gunshots to the head and both seek to express cinematically a state of mind that is internal: grief and loss in Jackie, which is set mainly in the hours and days after the assassination of President John F Kennedy; depression and paranoia in Christine. In this area, they rely heavily not only on hypnotically controlled performances from their lead actors but on music that describes the psychological contours of distress.

Even before we see anything in Jackie, we hear plunging chords like a string section falling down a lift shaft. This is the unmistakable work of the abrasive art rocker Mica Levi. Her score in Jackie closes in on the ears just as the tight compositions by the cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine exclude the majority of the outside world. The Chilean director Pablo Larraín knows a thing or two about sustaining intensity, as viewers of his earlier work, including his Pinochet-era trilogy (Tony Manero, Post Mortem and No), will attest. Though this is his first English-language film, there is no hint of any softening. The picture will frustrate anyone hoping for a panoramic historical drama, with Larraín and the screenwriter Noah Oppenheim irising intently in on Jackie, played with brittle calm by Natalie Portman, and finding the nation’s woes reflected in her face.

Bit-players come and go as the film jumbles up the past and present, the personal and political. A journalist (Billy Crudup), nameless but based on Theodore White, arrives to interview the widow. Her social secretary, Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), urges her on with cheerleading smiles during the shooting of a stiff promotional film intended to present her warmly to the public. Her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) hovers anxiously nearby as she negotiates the chasm between private grief and public composure. For all the bustle around her, the film insists on Jackie’s aloneness and Portman gives a performance in which there is as much tantalisingly concealed as fearlessly exposed.

A different sort of unravelling occurs in Christine. Antonio Campos’s film begins by showing Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) seated next to a large box marked “fragile” as she interviews on camera an empty chair in which she imagines Richard Nixon to be sitting. She asks of the invisible president: “Is it paranoia if everyone is indeed coming after you?” It’s a good question and one that she doesn’t have the self-awareness to ask herself. Pressured by her editor to chase juicy stories, she goes to sleep each night with a police scanner blaring in her ears. She pleads with a local cop for stories about the darker side of Sarasota, scarcely comprehending that the real darkness lies primarily within her.

For all the shots of TV monitors displaying multiple images of Christine in this beige 1970s hell, the film doesn’t blame the sensationalist nature of the media for her fractured state. Nor does it attribute her downfall entirely to the era’s sexism. Yet both of those things exacerbated problems that Chubbuck already had. She is rigid and off-putting, all severe straight lines, from her haircut and eyebrows to the crossed arms and tight, unsmiling lips that make it difficult for anyone to get close to her. That the film does break through is down to Hall, who illuminates the pain that Christine can’t express, and to the score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. It’s perky enough on the surface but there are cellos sawing away sadly underneath. If you listen hard enough, they’re crying: “Help.” 

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 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era