Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Beastie Boys Story Isn't Substantive But It Is a Fun Trip Through the Past

Beastie Boys Story is a reunion in a number of ways. The most obvious example of this is that the two surviving members of the band The Beastie Boys, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz, are coming together to tell tales about their experiences working together over the last thirty years. In another sense, this provides director Spike Jonze a chance to reunite with The Beastie Boys after directing a number of their music videos (including the one for Sabotage) in the early 1990s. Everybody's reunited and it feels so good. Those good vibes aren't enough to make Beastie Boys Story something outstanding but they are enough to make it a pleasant watch.

In 2019, Diamond and Horovitz toured across the country to provide a retrospective of their lives together with elaborate accompanying visual aids. Such visuals came in the form of props, music videos, archival footage and anything else that reflects the past of The Beastie Boys. This show was written and directed by Spike Jonze and one of these performances has now been filmed to comprise the entirety of Beastie Boys Story. The end result is Diamond and Horovitz giving an extended wistful lecture, which actually isn't a bad thing. Not every lecture is peppered with a number of amusing anecdotes and such enjoyable speakers.

Given how the entirety of the movie is resting on their shoulders, it's a darn good thing Diamond and Horovitz are as engaging as they are. Luckily, decades of performing on a stage mean this duo is well-aware of how to keep an audience entertained. Their speaking style rides a nice line between being appropriately formal and, perhaps most importantly, endearingly unpolished. After all, these are former rock stars talking about their days making rock tunes. This subject matter shouldn't get talking about in overly stuffy terms. It requires a lighter tough that Diamond and Horovitz nicely provide in their stories that chart the saga of the Beastie Boys from its earliest days to the 2012 demise of band member Adam Yauch.

These tales do tend to veer into more surface-level explorations of what it's like to navigate the music industry in the 1980s. Whenever things get personal in Beastie Boys Story, though, Diamond and Horovitz' storytelling skills really come to life. Their specifically-detailed descriptions of important people, for example, are so amusing because of that specificity, only Horovitz or Diamond would describe somebody in these terms. Meanwhile, the duo reflecting on how they ended up cutting out women out of their band in favor of a male-dominated image once The Beastie Boys started taking off rings with a sense of authentic regret.

Beastie Boys Story doesn't always lend significant insight into its central subject matter but one of its best traits is how it's able to so openly present a critical look at the musical works of The Beastie Boys. Rather than just turning this documentary into a lovefest, Diamond and Horovitz are open about the toxic treatment of women in their earliest songs. This lends a more nuanced approach to the Beastie Boys band that helps to ensure the proceedings aren't just a shallow nostalgia trip. Furthermore, Beastie Boys Story is also aided by a number of clever visual aids that help to visually manifest key parts of anecdotes delivered by Diamond and Horovitz.

The best of these tend to be ones that don't work like they should, like a colorful piece of animation meant to accompany the utterance of the phrase "Crazy Shit!". These are the only moments where director Spike Jonze makes his presence known by providing small pieces of voice-over (which actually occur during the performance) commenting on the technical difficulties. Jonze's brief asides are humorous and help to reinforce the appropriately scrappy aesthetic of Beastie Boys Story. The Beastie Boys band was constantly subverting expectations. A live show reflecting on their past should be similarly unpredictable, even if such unpredictability manifests in technical glitches.

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