The musician biopic has come into its own, or at least a kind of middlebrow prestige, with “Ray” and “Walk the Line” scoring award nominations by molding their respective subjects’ lives into a standard narrative arc of troubled childhood/rise to success/drug abuse/redemption, with a hearty dash of half-assed psychoanalysis thrown mixed in. Early Rolling Stones member Brian Jones isn’t so convenient a focus after being kicked out of the band in his mid-20s, he lolled around Sussex, drinking, dallying with a succession of girlfriends and playing at remodeling his house, before turning up dead in the pool at the rock star-approved age of 27, his life less an arc than a mild incline. But Stephen Woolley’s rambling “Stoned” is less concerned with Jones’ life than with the mystery surrounding his death, which the film, with admirable effrontery, purports to solve.
For the bulk of “Stoned,” Jones, played by Leo Gregory as if he were always remembering something funny but trying to keep a straight face, is already ensconced in his countryside home with his Swedish girlfriend and nothing much to do. The Stones’ road manager Tom (David Morrissey), sends his friend Frank Thorogood over as much to babysit and entertain Jones as to work on the house. As played by Paddy Considine, Thorogood is the embodiment of the Britain’s bewildered older generation, both drawn to and disapproving of Jones’ super-60s decadence, which we see more of in flashbacks to Jones’ troubled relationship with Anita Pallenberg (Monet Mazur) cocaine, wild sex, drinking, clubbing, S&M and, most shocking of all, dropping acid to the tune of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” a combination so gratingly obvious it we could almost hear the theater’s eyes roll in unison.
Jones and Thorogood start up a kind of sadistic, codependent friendship in which Jones both depends on Thorogood for company and plays extensive, cruel mind games with him. For his part, Thorogood does a lousy job as a builder, but latches desperately onto the escape from grim London life Jones provides. Because Thorogood is played by the awkward, pasty, compelling Considine, who can be brilliant at personifying pent-up, working-class rage, he’s naturally more sympathetic than Jones, who’s portrayed as both self-pitying and malicious, and who the film never tries too hard to convince us is that great of a musician anyway. Jones toys with both his Swedish actress girlfriend Anna and with Frank, who end up competing for his mercurial affections (and the cash flow that comes with them).
When Jones finally tries to cut ties with Thorogood, and an infuriated Thorogood drowns him in the pool, the effect is less tragic than relieving finally! Maybe the fault is Gregory’s, for not getting under the skin of the character enough to make him more than a smirking cipher, but I’m inclined to think it’s more Woolley’s the director spells out his intentions in a closing scene in which manager Tom imagines a conversation with Jones’ ghost, who watches mourners come to the side of the pool in which he died, and who thanks Tom for making him a martyr, rather than just a failed musician. So, screw the “Behind the Music” biopic formula is that what it’s all about? Staying young, wild and talented, while the 60s faded and passed? Because from here, it’s looking more like a story of the death of arrogant, self-absorbed prat who the world has already half-forgotten.
“Stoned” opens in New York and LA on March 24 (official site).