Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll Movie Review
Disabled by polio at age 10, Ian Dury (Serkis) grew up with a fierce determination to be himself, and against the odds became an iconic leader of Britain's punk scene in the 1970s. But his unruly lifestyle takes a toll on his personal relationships, and he barely knows his son Baxter (Milner) from his first wife Betty (Williams). So Baxter comes to stay with him and his current girlfriend Denise (Harris), and both father and son need to figure out how to relate to each other. And to realise how much they need each other.
This father-son focus gives the film an emotional resonance that involves us even as the story spirals out of control. Clearly, Whitecross was trying to echo Dury's circus-like life on screen with luridly coloured sets, manic costumes, borderline cartoonish acting and extremely manic editing. There's also a surreal stage-show framing device in which Dury narrates his own life story as a performance art piece, plus lots of digital trickery with old photos and film footage.
While all of this is visually impressive, it quickly exhausts us to the point that we lose touch with the emotional drama. Even so, several moments do connect with us. Serkis tears up the screen with a full-bodied turn that's perhaps even more outrageous than Dury himself. Serkis even voices the songs along with the original Blockheads. And his high-energy, kinetic, sweat-stained performance is utterly unforgettable. Even more remarkable is the way the terrific Milner manages to steal scenes from him.
Yet despite all of the visual stimulation, the film is never exhilarating. Even the classic songs are chopped up visually or turned into wacky set pieces (such as the underwater rendition of Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick). If the film has a kick, it's in the relationship between Ian and Baxter. And when Ian tells him, "Please don't try to be like me; be like you," the film's central theme hits us squarely between the eyes.