Adolescent angst is mostly insufferable to almost anyone past voting age, and the rebirth of the musical drama, where feelings are condensed into manipulative pop, hasn’t helped. Hunky Dory, the latest from Billy Elliott producer Jonathan Finn, is what results when somebody decides—after Glee, Rock of Ages, and Across the Universe—that the 1970s deserve their day in the karaoke movie sun. Surprisingly, it’s not bad. Minnie Driver plays Viv, a free-spirited high school drama teacher (in the movies, there’s no other kind) trying to stage a rock version of The Tempest in spite of the interference of the local parents (the film’s set in Wales) and the show’s storm of adolescent bugaboos (Sexual ambiguity! Abandonment issues! Skinheads!). The musical tour of the “Me” Decade centers on David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” from the album bearing the name of the film. In addition to the Thin White Duke, there are tunes from the likes of the Beach Boys, Roxy Music, and Electric Light Orchestra. Indeed, if director Marc (Patagonia) Evans is to be believed, ELO may well have been the Welsh national band. If there are a few too many storylines or some tonal inconsistencies (in case you didn’t realize it, the ’70s were a time of cultural upheaval), at least newcomer Aneurin Barnard has something of former Evans protégé Matthew Rhys’s presence. Driver also gamely goes to 11 at every opportunity (and manages a decent Welsh accent). Hunky Dory isn’t blazing any trails, but if you’re not wholly burned out by the genre and/or look back fondly on the Glam era, you’ll find musicals haven’t yet completely gone to the (diamond) dogs.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 20, 2013