The year was 1999, a typical Friday night. On a trip to whatever video rental store my sister and I frequented at the time, we spotted a little, lonely videocassette in the New Releases section. It was a movie we had never heard of, but it promised to be similar to Spinal Tap, and it featured some sort of aging rock band. My sister is a big fan of aging rock bands, so we picked it up.
And I discovered one of my all-time favorite movies.
Still Crazy is a movie with a history, and within the space of a few minutes, you feel like you’ve known the juicy gossip for years. It centers around a band that was big in the 70′s, Strange Fruit. In 1977, at the Wisbech Rock Festival, the band was going through rough times. The first lead singer was dead from a drug overdose, and his brother, the guitarist, seemed headed the same way. The band is on the verge of a breakup – and God seems to agree, as the stage is toasted with lightning from above.
Flash forward to the present day – well, the late 1990′s. Bands like Aerosmith and KISS are on tour, and Tony, the keyboardist wants to get the Fruits back together. He turns to Karen, the band’s old laundry mistress/Wendy to their Lost Boys. She agrees to help, but she’s filled with trepidation: she had a history with Brian, the tortured guitarist. Can she pull together this group of boys that are just as messed up, in many ways, as they were twenty years before? Or are they all trying to reclaim a past long gone?
Still Crazy is, indeed, most often compared to Spinal Tap, but it’s not really an accurate comparison. For one thing, this film is not a mockumentary. And while it definitely is funny – the cast is an all-star lineup including Bill Nighy, Timothy Spall and Billy Connolly – it’s not really a roll-in-your-seat kind of film. It’s got as much heart as laughs, so you’re just as likely to get a little choked up as you are to laugh out loud.
No film about a rock band is complete without music, and you’re treated to several Strange Fruit songs – for better or for worse. Most of the performances are rusty, as they should be, but there are a few gems.
Bill Nighy plays the “new” lead singer, and he manages to capture the essence of so many rock gods of the era (and a little bit of present-day Ozzy Osbourne). He is undoubtedly one of the best parts of the film, and his performance in this movie made me a lifelong fan (imagine the squealing when I saw “Vincent and the Doctor”).
And that’s partly why I love this movie so much, I think – it just captures the rock essence so well, with just a few lines, a few looks. And really, it’s not only life as an old rocker – it’s just life. We’ve all known someone fragile, we’ve all been jealous of someone with more charisma.
As for myself… perhaps because I had geek interests, I was often the only girl with a bunch of guy friends, especially when I was a teenager. I think most geek girls have been a Karen or a Wendy at some point.
But on a lighter note, it really brought home to me that those were the years I should be out, seeing concerts, going on trips, having fun. And when I was in college, I wasn’t afraid to use my off time on road trips across the country, seeing the shows of my favorite bands, making memories.
So if you’re looking for a little British movie with a lot of heart, and equal parts rock and comedy, check out Still Crazy, and see if you become an instant fan.