Film & TV

Film Review: ‘I Used to Be Famous’: An Endearing Breath of Fresh Air

BY Ian Kane TIMEDecember 3, 2022 PRINT

2022 | PG-14 | 1h 44m | Comedy, Drama, Music

As a filmmaker, I know all too well that the road to success is fraught with a plethora of distractions, temptations, and pitfalls. Sometimes these lead folks to be temporarily sidelined in their quest for recognition or whatever goal it is they desire—while in other, unfortunate cases, they slip through the cracks altogether.

In creative fields where youth is of paramount importance, such as for child actors or boys in bands, these dangers are especially true; even if one attains a certain degree of fame and fortune, all can be lost as the years roll by and the most valuable trait—youth—fades away.

In “I Used to Be Famous,” director Eddie Sternberg makes his feature directorial debut with an interesting film that posits the question of what happens when a man from a once-famous boyband fades into obscurity. This film takes a lens into the world of musicians who are not only crestfallen after their fall from the perch atop the music industry but desperately yearn to crawl back up. It’s based on Sternberg’s 2015 short film of the same name and has a similar narrative.

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Once famous Vince (Ed Skrein), also known as Vinny D, has fallen into obscurity, in “I Used to Be Famous.” (Netflix)

Two Musicians Meet

The film’s opening shows protagonist Vince (Ed Skrein), also known as Vinnie D, and his boyband mates preparing to go out on stage to greet a massive audience of ravenous fans, who are howling, yelping, and squealing with anticipation of their imminent appearance. The boyband Stereo Dream is at the height of its popularity and press coverage.

Fast-forward 20 years and we find Vince roaming the streets of Peckham (a district in Southeast London), where he lives in a small, dingy apartment. When he’s not calling record companies in an attempt to get them to listen to his keyboard music, he’s visiting local pubs with the hopes of scoring gigs. He’s so broke that he’s been reduced to carting his keyboard around strapped to an ironing board.

One day, while taking a break from constant rejections, Vince strolls into a bustling side street and sits down on a bench to practice some tunes on his keyboard. An autistic boy, Stevie (Leo Long), interrupts Vince’s practice session by striking up rhythms using his drumsticks on any objects in the vicinity.

After initially blowing the kid off, Vince starts to realize that Stevie has a natural gift and the two perform a spontaneous jam session while a gathering crowd of appreciative onlookers whips out their cellphones to record the event.

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Stevie (Leo Long, L) and his protective mother Amber (Eleanor Matsuura), in “I Used to Be Famous.” (Netflix)

Sometime later, after being turned down for a nine-to-five job, Vince shuffles through the very same side street with stooped shoulders and a furrowed brow. A woman who had recorded his impromptu jam session approaches him to show the video she took. His eyes widen—the video has gone viral online!

Suddenly, Vince’s chance at a second shot at stardom seems to be within his grasp. But to make that happen, he must convince Stevie’s mother Amber (Eleanor Matsuura) to allow her son to perform with him in an upcoming gig at Peckham’s Finest, the crème de la crème of the pub gig scene.

However, Vince’s life journey isn’t just about an underdog trying to reclaim his past glory, it’s also a tale of a familial tragedy and the chance at a deeper level of redemption. These glances of Vince’s past come in the form of scattered flashbacks.

Its Heart’s in the Right Place

Portraying Vince’s painful past could have easily veered into melodrama, but Sternberg’s more than capable direction keep things from dropping into schmaltz.

Ed Skrein and Leo Long also turn in some strong performances as musicians at different points in their life journeys. The supporting cast (thankfully featuring many talented newcomers) are likewise excellent and buttress the main players with aplomb.

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Vince (Ed Skrein, L) finds a common beat with Stevie (Leo Long), in “I Used to Be Famous” (Netflix)

This is a film that has its heart in the right place and is more down-to-earth than the flashier fare currently on Netflix. It’s also one of the few films that has some very positive messages. It uplifts, as opposed to the cynical and divisive offerings that are all too prevalent in these strange times.

I consider “I Used to Be Famous” to be a perfect movie to ring in the new year—it’s full of hope, positivity, and an overarching theme that encourages folks to aim high and achieve their dreams, no matter how lofty those dreams may seem.

‘I Used to Be Famous’
Director: Eddie Sternberg
Starring: Ed Skrein, Eleanor Matsuura, Leo Long
MPAA Rating: TV-14
Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 16, 2022
Rated: 4.5 stars out of 5

Ian Kane is an U.S. Army veteran, author, filmmaker, and actor. He is dedicated to the development and production of innovative, thought-provoking, character-driven films and books of the highest quality.
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