There is, in most cases, a slim range of variation in music documentaries.
The 400-Word Review: Beastie Boys Story
By Sean Collier
April 22, 2020
The form is well-established: Surviving members and associates giving interviews about the wild days; archival footage of videos and performances; a familiar story arc, from early travails to sudden success to the perils of fame to older, wiser years. It’s such a serviceable formula that VH1 ran a whole network on it for years.
Such stories are generally either pretty good (if the subject is fascinating and the story is told well) or unremarkable but watchable. Variations are rare — so “Beastie Boys Story,” while fundamentally following the standard beats, rises above the crop if only by virtue of a much different approach.
The tale of the influential rap trio is told by Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz onstage, to a rapturous live audience. The form is something between documentary narration and live stand-up comedy; while the tale is theatrically scripted, much of what we see, from off-the-cuff riffs to outpourings of emotion, is clearly spontaneous.
With director Spike Jonze helming both the film and the stage show, the beats are tight and the entertainment undeniable. The stories weave in and out of footage that serves less as exposition and more as evidence, backing up the accounts offered by Diamond and Horovitz.
Inevitably, the tale is one-sided — and has holes. Difficult early decisions about the direction of the group are glossed over; a sudden jump from the late ’90s to the 2000s leaves a key part of the story untold (although it does keep the film from passing the two-hour mark). More importantly, while the rappers admit the problematic aspects of their ’80s behavior and lyrics, that subject doesn’t advance beyond acknowledgement; Horovitz shamefully recites some of the lyrics from the group’s controversial single “Girls,” displaying regret on his face but not actually delving into the issue.
Frank discussions of larger issues were the domain of the third Beastie Boy, the late Adam “MCA” Yauch. “Beastie Boys Story” is often a tribute and elegy for Yauch, who died of cancer in 2012; the most affecting moments in the film are those where Horovitz and Diamond, barely able to continue, deal with the trauma of their friend’s death. The Beastie Boys did not continue after Yauch’s death, and it’s easy to see why; in both musicianship and thought, he was the best of them.
My Rating: 8/10
“Beastie Boys Story” will be available for streaming via Apple TV+ on Friday, April 24.