For a film dealing with music, Eddie Sternberg's I Used to Be Famous does not immediately hold you with its rhythm. In the opening scene, we watch a pop star preparing himself for his stage performance. "This is your time," he says while nervously looking in a mirror. When the band arrives at the stage to perform, the movie jumps forward 20 years. That pop star, now grown up and financially crippled, asks various managers if he could perform at their bar. By the way, his name is Vince (Ed Skrein), and he is rejected by every one of them. Despondent, he sits on a public bench and begins to rehearse. It's here where he meets Stevie (Leo Long), an autistic kid with a talent for playing drums. Now, the idea behind this scene is interesting: Two strangers connecting through music. But the way it's performed is so cheesy (the crowd instantly gathers around and starts cheering for them) that you squirm, not applaud.
Stevie, with his mother Amber (Eleanor Matsuura), visits a music group, and it is there where he comes across Vince again after the above-mentioned moment. There is a jolting cut here from the group's drum session to Vince and Stevie's piano session. Also, we don't spend much time in the music group. As a result, you almost laugh when Dia (Kurt Egyiawan) inquires whether Vince would like to replace him as the teacher. The other scenes don't work well either, like the one where everyone misses the presence of both Stevie and Vince or the one where Stevie remarks that the music group is "not the same anymore."
In I Used to Be Famous, Sternberg walks on a well-worn path. He is not successful when we catch him trying to manipulate us. For instance, a tape is destroyed after Vince has an argument with Amber regarding an incident at their gig at a bar. That tape contains footage of Vince's brother. So in a sense, its damage is more about his personal failure and loss (he was unable to spend much time with his brother, and now Stevie's mother has ordered him to stay away from her child). When you are aware of the trick, you are not impressed by the magic.
And so, Sternberg shines when he absorbs us into his film with such conviction that we stop detecting logic and embrace the emotions. Thankfully, he has just the right actors at his disposal. Skrein has an open face that lets us read between the lines. When Vince mentions to Amber that Stevie has talent, and she should let him bring it out to the world, you can detect through his tone and mannerisms that he is using Stevie for his professional comeback. He's not bad and definitely wants good things for the kid, but he initially takes up a contract for a tour that has no place for Stevie as a drummer. Long puts on a shy and charming face that automatically warms us up to him, and Matsuura is fine as a protective mother. The more you know their characters, the more you wish for their happiness.
Sternberg is especially good at capturing awkward silences. Notice the scene where Vince goes to Amber's house for the first time and the one where he meets an old friend at a recording studio after a long time. But you recall I Used to Be Famous with fondness because of the final moments. That musical performance at Stevie's birthday celebration fills you with exultation. It's one of those high moments that makes you overlook quibbles like the thinly conceived romance between Vince and Mel (Racheal Ofori), a bartender. So yes, I Used to Be Famous walks on a well-worn path, but it's not a sin when the result ultimately leaves a sweet aftertaste in your mouth.
Final Score – [6.5/10]
Reviewed by - Vikas Yadav
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