Movie review: “CBGB” starring Alan Rickman and Rupert Grint

Film by Randall Miller
Starring:  Alan Rickman, Malin Akerman, Freddy Rodriguez, & Rupert Grint

Rated: R for Adult Situations, Adult Language and Violence

CBGB  is enjoyable as a film, but falls short in really reaching the mythos of the iconic club and its importance in the punk rock community.  Alan Rickman once again turns in a stellar performance as Hilly Kristal, the twice bankrupt owner of CBGB.  His portrayal of the stubborn and frustrating Kristal make you root for his unlikely (and sometimes unlikable) protagonist.  But the movie falters as they spend too much time showing the financial struggles of Kristal and the fighting between Kristal and his daughter Lisa (Ashley Greene) instead of showcasing the impact this small club in the Bowery of New York City had on the creation and mobilization of punk rock.

The only requirement Kristal made his acts adhere to was that they could only perform original music, and the film spends a lot of time showing the many famous bands who performed at CBGB, including:  Television, Talking Heads, Blondie, Patti Smith, The Ramones, The Dead Boys, and The Police.  These scenes were some of the film’s strongest moments, when it was showing us the big name acts who got their starts at Kristal’s club.  Malin Akerman is perfect as Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie, and Mickey Sumner is also convincing as Patti Smith.  Rupert Grint gives an excellent performance as Cheetah Chrome, the guitarist for The Dead Boys, a band that Kristal decides to manage.  Rupert is often sullen and sometimes risqué as the famous punk rocker; there is a scene in the film where he drops his pants in front of a producer in the bar to prove that he does not dye his hair, as well as a scene where he mimes a sexual act on a beer bottle.

The movie also contains a completely unnecessary subplot about John Holmstrom (Josh Zuckerman) and Legs McNeil (Peter Vack), the two young founders of Punk magazine, who helped popularize CBGB, a fact that is never mentioned in the film.  Instead we just get cool illustrations from the magazine, Holmstrom and writer Mary Harron (Ahna O’Reilly) interviewing Lou Reed (Kyle Gallner), and a few scenes of Harron and Holmstrom talking about the political influence of the punk youth.  I didn’t really feel as though these scenes had much to do with the club itself, and just detracted from the plot of the film.

Right when the film hits its stride, at the moment when Kristal has reconciled with his daughter, sorted his life out, and finally beginning to get the club’s finances in order, it ends.  There are some scenes during the credits that show the impact that Kristal and CBGB had on punk rock music, including footage of Talking Heads’ acceptance speech during their induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in which they bring Kristal up on stage to thank him for all the support he gave them.

Despite its flaws, I did enjoy the film.  There are plenty of performances that make it worth watching, and (not surprisingly)  the soundtrack is awesome.  It is definitely worth seeing, particularly if you are a fan of punk rock.