Netflix has been working on a UK slate over the past year, including Man vs Bee on the TV side and I Came By on the movies side. While the latter felt like a very Netflix movie, a much-talked about thriller, I Used to Be Famous might seem like an atypical choice for a Netflix original.
The tale of a former boy band member who finds unexpected friendship with an autistic drummer might seem too low-key to make an impact on the streaming service. There’s just so much new ‚content‘ (to use a terrible phrase) weekly on Netflix that it’s inevitable some movies will fall by the wayside.
You should make the effort to seek out I Used to Be Famous though as it’s an uplifting and endearing watch. It’s a movie that signposts its ultimate destination, yet it’s done with such heart that you’ll cry happy tears by the end all the same.
After opening with Vince (Ed Skrein) during his boy band days as Vinnie D in Stereo Dream, I Used to Be Famous jumps forward two decades and Vince can’t even get a gig in local pubs in Peckham.
While busking on a bench though, he meets Stevie (impressive newcomer Leo Long) who immediately strikes up a rhythm with Vince. One viral video later and Vince feels like his second chance at music stardom has come, assuming he can persuade Stevie’s mother Amber (Eleanor Matsuura) to let her autistic son to perform a gig.
Vince flirts with making it big again, thanks to the help of former Stereo Dream band member Austin (Eoin Macken), but what might surprise you is that the movie isn’t really interested in that particular underdog tale. Writer-director Eddie Sternberg is more interested in the human element of the story, and the movie is stronger for it.
Adapting from his own short film of the same name, Sternberg based the character of Stevie on his cousin, who is autistic and a drummer. That personal connection is evident in how the filmmaker chose to cast a neurodivergent actor as Stevie, as well as having several neurodivergent actors in the movie’s stand-out drum circle scenes.
Vince’s journey is also linked with the death of his brother during his Stereo Dream fame, seeking his own redemption for how he feels he let his brother down. If at times the movie strays into oversentimentality with its flashbacks, Skrein’s affecting performance prevents it from becoming too cheesy.
The music sequences are excellent and sell the idea that Vince could genuinely have a comeback with Stevie. As well as the euphoric and tearful final performance, there’s a strong mid-movie gig that shows off the songs written by London Grammar’s Dan Rothman and Hannah Reid.
Like everything else in the movie, the music sequences feel real and are delivered with heart. It might not be groundbreaking in its story, yet no part of the movie ever makes you think it was designed by algorithm, which can sometimes be the case with Netflix.
There’s genuine heart in I Used to Be Famous and even the stoniest among us will be moved. Netflix might offer splashier outings to watch this weekend, but I Used to Be Famous deserves to be front of stage.
I Used to Be Famous is available to watch now on Netflix.