Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll
Based on the life of the lead singer of one of punk/new waves most treasured bands: Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Andy Serkis (known to Lord of the Rings fans as Gollum) takes on another unique role as the late frontman. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010) takes Ian Dury’s story and transforms it into a charmingly funny and emotional rollercoaster ride in cinematic form. When it comes to these types of films (rock star biopics) you can easily lose the inspirational qualities and let them sink into overly sentimental unaffecting stories. I’m very happy that it wasn’t the case here. ‘Sex and Drugs’ is a refreshingly vibrant, well paced portrait of a pop star that, while not as well known as an Elvis or or Jimi Hendrix, was for the punk and new wave crowds of the early 80s a true icon of the counter-culture spirit and DIY ethic.
One of the most important, life altering events in Dury’s life occurred when he succumbed to polio at age seven. It is believed he contracted the disease while swimming at a local pool. He would have to wear braces for the rest of his life. This disability serves as the touchstone for Ian’s journey from being a handicapped lonely outsider to becoming a wild and crazy rock and roller who was loved by millions of fans.
Dury’s stylized vocals were not typical, he was more like a punk rock narrator who told stories along with the music. He often used his British working class accent almost to a satirical effect as he recited the song’s verses. This was in itself a perfect thing for the New Wave era (known for its eclectic re-invention of pop music) giving his band even more of a unique sound. The casting of Andy Serkis was really a brilliant choice. He not only looks like Dury but his voice in comparison is very similar in tone which of course gives the musical sequences even more of an impact.
Director Mat Whitecross utilizes some really interesting visual effects at the outset of the film. While Dury performs a live vaudevillian style show, he jumps in and out of colorful animated sequences which are used to usher us into his zany world. The carnival-like spastic introduction covers his early days in his first band Kilburn & The High Roads up through the formation of his new wave band The Blockheads. The film then moves into a more traditional biographical story.
We also get to know Dury’s inner circle of friends and family who surrounded him during his life and career including his main song writing protege and band member Chas Jankel and his girlfriend Denise (Naomi Harris). The portrayal of their rocky but loving relationship is one of the most moving parts of the film. At the center of it all is Dury’s son Baxter (Bill Milner) who watches on as his father becomes more and more famous. Baxter is himself an outsider who seems to be inspired by Dury’s wild punk lifestyle but must overcome his own personal problems. In a fun little sequence we get to see how Baxter ended up on the cover of Ian Dury’s New Boots And Panties LP. Ray Winstone (The Departed) makes a cameo appearance as Bill Dury, Ian’s father who we see through flashbacks. Winstone’s time in the film is rather brief, but his performance as the tender but tough character is very powerful. Bill teaches the polio stricken Ian at a young age to be his own person and to learn to take care of himself. A lesson that he would carry with him throughout his life. One of the most touching scenes comes when Dury later visits his old school where he interacts with the children who suffer from different physical and mental problems.