Review by Sean Boelman
Mystify: Michael Hutchence, directed by Richard Lowenstein, is a new music documentary about the eponymous frontman of iconic rock group INXS. Although the film is ultimately quite conventional, Hutchence’s story is interesting and Lowenstein’s approach to it is unique enough to make this a must-see for fans of the musician.
The movie explores Hutchence’s life and career from his rise to fame with INXS to his unfortunate death in 1997. For a film coming out years after the passing of its subject, and without any special occasion commemorating its release (such as an anniversary of an important event in Hutchence’s life), the movie does a good job of making itself feel like more than a nostalgia-driven cash-grab. Instead, it’s a reflection on the ups and downs in the life of a troubled artist.
Hutchence obviously has a large fanbase because of the popularity of the band which he fronted, and his story is one of the more well-known cautionary tales about the cost of fame. Lowenstein presents the musician in a way that does not idolize him, but portrays him as the flawed human he was, struggling with issues that many cope with on a daily basis. As a result, the film allows viewers, particularly fans, to feel closer to Hutchence than ever before.
That said, the movie does fall victim at times to feeling a bit too sanitized. Even though Hutchence’s struggles with depression are presented in a very truthful and matter-of-fact way, these struggles don’t receive enough of the screen time. While it is nice to see these issues depicted on screen at all, one can’t help but feel like this story had the potential to be the vector to sway public opinion.
The pacing of the film is admittedly a bit tedious at times because it does follow the formula of the traditional rock doc pretty closely, but ultimately, there are interesting segments spread throughout that will keep the audience’s interest. However, these more fascinating portions, such as an exploration of Hutchence’s image and how it affected his depression, are often glossed over in favor of the more well-known music industry elements.
Archive footage from INXS concerts are sprinkled throughout and will satisfy fans’ cravings to hear some of the band’s greatest hits, but these songs perhaps could have been used more effectively to back Hutchence’s story. Other soundtrack choices, such as the inclusion of a song by French musician Serge Gainsbourg, are entertaining but distract from the primary narrative.
Lowenstein does a very good job of assembling the movie in a way that feels compelling and personal. Likely the most interesting decision that he makes is to use Hutchence’s own words from archive interviews to provide a narration, and this allows the audience to connect with the film on another level. Even though Hutchence is no longer alive, it is great to hear his story from his own mouth.
While it is certainly conventional, Mystify: Michael Hutchence delivers a compelling rock doc that takes advantage of the tragic story of its subject. It isn’t the most uplifting of films, but the message this story holds is an important and timely one.
Mystify: Michael Hutchence plays in theaters for one night only on January 7.
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