Every now and then, predictability can be just what you need in your movie going experience. We often crave originality, and for the most part, risks generally pay off in big ways. But sometimes you just need a nice little feel good story with all the familiar beats and emotional manipulation to get your day started and maybe get some much needed water works going. You know because, well, *gestures at everything.* That’s where Netflix’ “I Used to be Famous” comes in. Highly predictable and beat for beat familiarity in the feel good dramedy genre, the heartfelt little film has more earnestness and likability than expected, and manages to overcome any of its unchallenging obstacles. “Famous” doesn’t take any risks, and requires its viewers to be in the right mood to fully enjoy. But if you are in the mood for a taunt, feel good story about fleeting fame, music, and redemption, then “I Use to Be Famous” checks all of the boxes in all of the right ways.
Written and directed by Eddie Sternberg, “I Used to Be Famous” follows Vince, a washed up popstar who has fallen far from the lime light of his early boy band days. Desperate to make a comeback, he has a chance encounter with Stevie, a young autist teenager with incredible drumming skills. An unexpected bond forms between them, powered through their musical chemistry, and their friendship may just be the thing they’ve been missing all along. It stars Ed Skrein as Vince (doing a bit of career biographical work here) and real life autistic musician Leo Long as Stevie, who makes his film debut here.
If that all sounds familiar, well that’s because it is. “I Used to be Famous” may play out like a melodrama manipulator on paper, but Sternberg is so earnest and authentic in his approach that it never feels as trite or cliche as it looks. Additionally, Sternberg expertly balances leaning into the heart without falling into the traps that these kinds of films often fall into. For example, a typical feel good story like this would see the mom fall in love with the tortured artist bonding with her child. “Famous” avoids this entirely, choosing to focus on the bond between its two leads instead of muddle it all with father figure cliches. Vince isn’t a father to Stevie, and needs the young talent just as much as Stevie truly needs a friend. It is also very careful to treat and portray autism through a more robust and believable lens. Stevie is never portrayed as incompetent, nor is his spectrum ever abused or manipulated for cheap feels.
Ed Skrein adds some new wrinkles to his game, tapping into the redemption hero rather well. “Famous” is a pretty big departure from most of his filmography, and yet somehow feels the most personally connected to it. Skrein was propped up to be a lot of things, from the new face of “The Transporter,” then the love interest of one of the most watched shows in television in “Game of Thrones,” and even starred as the villain in the smash it “Deadpool.” Sure, he has a recognizable face, but I don’t think anyone could actually name that face in a Jeopardy question. So it’s fitting that he’s portraying someone who tasted fame and hasn’t ever really been able to maximize on it. Intentional or not, this comes through in his performance, and paired with the very real Long as Stevie, it all feels incredibly authentic and genuine. Skrein is actually pretty good at delivering a more subdued, nuanced performance, and I hope he continues to pursue more opportunities that challenge the action hero faced he’s built the basis of his career on. “Famous” is proof that he’s certainly capable of more, and could be a believable dramatic actor with more range that he is often given credit for.
And that’s really the key to “I Used to be Famous‘” success and why it all works so well. There’s no real point in diving into the finer points and plot of the film, because it doesn’t do anything that countless others have done before. But it does all of those things well and with a genuine connection to the material, and makes the familiarity stand out and tug at the heart strings. You never feel manipulated, so the emotional responses happen as organically as the friendship we’re investing in. “Famous” is a tried and true feel good story, one that uses music, redemption and friendship to conjure up good vibes all around. It may be simple, but it’s effective and achieves everything it sets out to do. It keeps itself largely contained and never lets too many subplots runaway with the film. Even as we start to dig a little deeper into Vince’s fall from grace and Stevie’s complex relationship with his mother and her sacrifices to take care of her, and yes even returning to some of Vince’s old boy band buddies, none of those things take away from the core of the film’s narrative.
If you’re looking for a little bit of an escape from watching the world burn, and want some positive energy and messaging in your life, then I recommend “I Use to be Famous.” Sometimes the best things are the simple ones, and sometimes we all need to fine a little heart in the drumbeat.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“I Used to be Famous” is currently streaming on Netflix. You can watch the trailer below.