God Bless Ozzy Osbourne
Directed by Mike Fleiss and Mike Piscitelli
Starring Ozzy Osburne, Sharon Osbourne, Sir Paul McCartney, Tommy Lee, Kelly Osbourne, Bill Ward
The most overexposed of rock stars receives yet more attention thanks to this standard-issue biopic, which premiered Sunday night at the Tribeca Film Festival. Much like a feature-length Behind the Music episode, God Bless Ozzy Osbourne chronologically retells what we’ve long known about the man, the myth, the legend, the lout. Sprung from a modest, working-class English family, he got out of Dodge by hustling his way into Black Sabbath, then parlayed near-instant success into an ambitious career of self-abuse. After being fired from the band, he joined up with wunderkind guitar god Randy Rhoads to produce a few good rock records, then resumed his downward spiral before starring in a 21st-century reality-TV freakshow alongside his second wife and manager, Sharon, and their two teenaged children.
Sprinkled throughout Fleiss and Piscetelli’s workmanlike film are familiar anecdotes about decapitated winged beasts, hotel room nihilism, and death-courting drug consumption–very, very familiar stuff. What’s new, and what apparently prompted this latest career exhumation, is that since The Osbournes went off the air in 2005, Ozzy’s gone stone cold sober. For anyone familiar with the lovably incoherent, amusingly catatonic, functionally alcoholic protagonist of that series, it’s a shock to see recent footage of the sexagenarian rocker bounding on and off stages from here to Australia, and lucidly, if ineloquently, recounting his life. (Reminiscences are often entirely comprised of him proclaiming “fucking hell” while contemplating an artifact from his past.)
Though a tale often told, Ozzy’s story still has the power to entertain and astonish, not least when notorious partier Tommy Lee draws a line at urine lapping, hotel carpet defecation, and fecal wall-painting, all acts he observed Mr. Osbourne performing with aplomb while on the road in the mid-1980s. Of the film’s talking head interviews, the most honest and effective ones are with the singer’s two children from his first marriage, who balance present-day peace with memories of childhoods defined by abandonment. Meanwhile Ozzy hangs himself, if only gently, on his self-coddling narcissism; even sober, he can’t recall his eldest children’s birth years when pressed.
Yet this is filmmaking totally free of ideas, content with paint-by-numbers portraiture commissioned by the Osbournes themselves (son Jack acts as the film’s producer; Sharon executive produced). At least on camera, Ozzy pays only mumbling lip service to his sins, and to how his behavior shattered the lives of those around him. Still he’s got excuses at the ready: that he was young, that he was “doing the fame thing,” and according to a near-pathological invocation, that he’s got low self-esteem. It may not be much of a film, but this semi-confessional with a redemption imperative in its title at least reminds us of how the Osbournes, led by an infantilized patriarch with nine celebrity lives, are the 21st century American Family, with personal narratives that are commodities to be repackaged, repurposed, and resold.
God Bless Ozzy Osbourne screens at the Tribeca Film Festival this Thursday, April 28, and Saturday, April 30