(This article originally appeared on Yahoo! Contributor Network on 11/4/11.)
Rock ‘n’ roll in the movies has run the gamut from (supposedly) true biopics like “The Doors” to (supposedly) fictionalized firsthand accounts such as “Almost Famous” to the gritty documentary “A Detroit Thing” documenting the rise of Kid Rock and the rival Detroit band, The Howling Diablos, that was left behind.
“Killing Bono” has a little bit of all of them at its core, but especially the latter. Despite similar plot lines to the painfully poignant Kid Rock/Howling Diablos documentary — seeing one band or person launch into fame and fortune while watching the other guys they grew up with come so close yet miss their big break and superstardom — “Killing Bono” is a much lighter movie and not so difficult to watch.
“Killing Bono” is based on the true story of Neil McCormick (Ben Barnes), who grew up in Dublin wanting to be a rock star, much like one of his destined-to-be-famous classmates, Paul Hewson. C’mon, you know him, right? OK, OK … maybe you know him better as Bono.
McCormick and his brother, Ivan, go from opening for the original U2, aka The Hype, to watching their classmates go on to legendary rock status while they plug away in dive bars and live in a barely habitable loft in Londo, with an odd assortment of neighbors, including the wonderful Pete Postelthwaite (may he rest in peace).
The not-so-glamorous side of rock and roll
This is where the movie truly excels: showing the not-so-glamorous fate for all those wannabe bands that aren’t living the high life in five star hotels — and most of whom never will. When I saw Ivan McCormick (Robert Sheehan) wrapping a sleeping bag around his shoulders in their loft, I could feel that cold (probably because I lived the whole artist-in-a-crappy-loft thing in Detroit.) That was definitely dead-on, although I would say a band at the level of The Shook Ups! would not have a tour bus but be packing into a van while touring.
“Killing Bono” also gives us a great trip back to the ’80s, when bands like Duran Duran ruled and Bob Geldof’s idea of putting on a little rock festival to benefit African famine was fresh and never done before. And you can’t have an ’80s-era movie without ’80s fashion. As Postelthwaite, playing their gay landlord and neighbor, quips, “You look like you raided Spandau Ballet’s closet.”
Where fact and fiction collide
The comedy takes some of the sting out of watching two men’s dreams turn to dust. As I watched the film, I found myself cringing and thinking, with each horrible decision Neil McCormick makes, “Please let this be the fiction part? Please tell me no one botched their life up this bad, and their brother’s?” Especially that whole bit about telling Bono not to put Ivan in his band — and not telling his brother that U2 had wanted him to be the fifth member. Ouch.
“Killing Bono” may not be on the same brilliant level of “Almost Famous,” but its nostalgia, humor, and bittersweetness are like a worthy opening act to that superstar of a film. It’s a fine tribute to all those middle-aged suburbanites who have a footlocker tucked away somewhere with tattered t-shirts and homemade posters from shows in places unknown by bands that aren’t has-beens but never-wases.
Although most of us never came as close as the brothers McCormick. And thank your lucky stars for that.