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Too-soon biopics eclipse artful film

Katy Perry is 27, has blue hair (or is it pink now?) — which looks surprisingly good on her — and for some reason will have a 3D biopic to sum up what’s she’s told media outlets was the most “intense year” of her life.

Justin Beiber is 18, has blond hair — with a haircut that gained a sort of infamy unseen since the Rachel in the ‘90s — and for some reason has already had a 3D biopic hit the big screen, while he was still 16.

Lady Gaga, 26, has also been slated to get a biopic, although she will neither be starring in it nor appearing in 3D.

The question here is, well, why?

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Consider the Lifetime movie proposed about Gaga. She doesn’t even want the picture to get made. Granted it’s because, as several news outlets have reported, she feels the movie will undermine her strong performance persona with a focus on her inner struggles. But, she’s got a point.

Biopics can be great art forms. There’s a wonderful level of fascination with the lives of musicians who appear in fact larger than life. But they only reach that point when done correctly.

Take for example the 2004 biographical movie “Ray.”

The Oscar-winning film displayed both the glamorous and intimate sections of the life of Ray Charles, a popular pianist-musician. It follows him from his Georgia childhood in which he lost his sight and learned to be fiercely independent despite his disability, to him breaking into and then redefining the music business, to his battles with drugs, his daliances with other women and his crash down to reality to overcome addiction and become a legend.

Every movie has its faults, and “Ray” is no exception, but what it does have is a worthwhile central character and care in its artistic product.

Expand to more than just biopics about musicians and the quality films continue. From 2001 to 2011, 12 of the 20 leading actor and actress winners were in fact playing another real person in a biographical picture.

These are heralded performances by people such as Sean Penn in “Milk,” or Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote,” Christian Bale in “The Fighter” or Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech.” Even this year Meryl Streep won for her performance of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” making her the 13th leading actor or actress to win Oscar gold with a performance in a biographical film since 2001.

It’s not that Miss ‘I Kissed A Girl,’ Miss Shooting Fireworks Out Of My Chest or Miss I Do Ridiculous Covers of Jay-Z/Kanye West Songs shouldn’t have a biopic. It’s that she shouldn’t have one yet. Or at least not the way it’s been pitched.

Making the movie 3D doesn’t make up for the fact that there isn’t enough substance to make the picture worth creating. One traumatic year doesn’t warrant an intimate look into the life of Perry. Rather, it’s one chapter of a developing story. Plus, dramatically focusing on lurid details of a musician’s personal life used to be what “Behind the Music” was for. (What ever happened to those anyway?)

Sure, maybe the Perry biopic can pull a “Never Say Never” and be an excuse to run a half-concert, half-capitalizing on curiosity film as an excuse to make money, and succeed in doing it. But should it? Not yet, unless maybe Meryl is bored this year and can make it magical.

Artists need a chance to achieve, to push the boundaries of their craft, to become iconic or infamous before biopics get pitched.

— Jazmine Woodberry is the arts editor. She can be reached at arts@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatArts .


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Updated December 3, 2021