Documentary Review: “Beastie Boys Story”

“Beastie Boys Story” is a TED Talk with swearing, tales of (faux) debauchery from a couple of 50somethings remembering making music that started as a joke and morphed into something with staying power.

Spike Jonze directed it and it was Emmy nominated, so there’s a little more to it than that. But the format is totally TED Talk, and it works…about as well as your average TED Talk.

The scripted-rehearsed gags, the polished (with seemingly-planned “technical difficulties”) anecdotes, scanning the all-too-familiar pop-star-career arc are all packed into the format of the last of a live series of New York stage shows in which the two surviving members of the trio — Michael Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) — remember the good times.

Adam Yauch, the third member, died of cancer in 2012, and the guys pay affectionate tribute to him every where they can and lots of archival interview footage with him is cut into the show.

In between jokes. In between ancient TV appearances, and in between endless photo montages of these “party bro” punks-turned-rappers. In between jokey chapter headings.

“Chapter 3: The Record that Changed Everything. “Chapter 8: The Record that Changed Everything.”

The pre-history and early years are the fun parts of any such story, and the most informative, especially here. Meeting as early teens, forming a punk combo with friends who included John Berry (who bailed) and drummer Schellenbach (kicked out when they became hyping butch rappers).

As Horovitz admits, in the film’s single-sentence mea culpa — “How f—–d up is that?”

All is quickly forgiven by the King Theater audience’s nostalgic 50something fanbase, so no worries, right?

What was most fascinating to me, who casually let the Boys Entering Anarchistic States Towards Inner Excellence (“MCA” Yauch’s acronym for BEASTIE) sort of pass by as MTV/”Soul Train”/”American Bandstand”  background noise, was all the recollections of their joint rise to fame with future super producer Rick Rubin, who became “our weird cool older brother” in college when they were still in their mid-teens and none of them were famous.

Old TV footage of Rubin hyping his “creation” is hilarious, and flies in the face of the inscrutable bearded guru he became.

Their Russell Simmons/Rick Def Jam years are amusingly recalled, complete with Russell impersonations, the guys marveling at their luck, the off-the-cuff creative process in those earliest years, opening for Madonna (a mistake), and then their idols Run-DMC made them.

Anarchic music videos, taking on the guise of rude jerks during their ’80s heyday, becoming the “ass—–s” they felt they were mocking in songs like “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” is sober and middle-age reflective.

The bite of Def Jam’s “breach of contract” accusations, and Simmons admitting to them that he “just needed three white rappers so that he could get (Def Jam) on MTV” is allowed to sting, but not smother the feel-good/feel-nostalgic/sentimental-over-Yauch vibe.

Yeah, they went kind of broke, for a while. And then they had a comeback.

But “Story” plays out a bit like the band itself. It peaks early, hits its giddy stride during the blur of sudden fame, notorious personal appearances and all-for-a-goof excesses, and then fizzles out utterly.

Proving themselves “legitimate” in later years is vindicating, but dramatically dull.

And a sometimes charming “victory lap” Brooklyn theater run doesn’t erase the faint odor of privilege and cultural appropriation that always hung over them — punk-rap mashup or not.

MPAA Rating: TV-MA, profanity

Cast: Michael Diamond, Adam Horovitz and the late Adam Yauch

Credits: Directed by Spike Jonze, script by Adam Horovitz and Mike Diamond.  An Apple TV+ release.

Running time: 1:59

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