Breezy, nostalgic Beastie Boys Story tells hip-hop legends' tales: Review
Music documentaries usually tend to fall into two camps: the audience-neutral ones — linear, comprehensive, newbie-friendly — and the kind clearly meant for fans. By most metrics, Beastie Boys Story falls firmly in the second; less a cradle-to-grave primer than a sort of discursive, bittersweet spelunk through a highly personal history that also functions as a loving tribute to the late great anchor of the trio, Adam “MCA” Yauch.
Still, the film does trace a clear evolution — one that saw them go from the beer-spewing teenage yahoos of mid-'80s MTV staples like “Fight for Your Right to Party” to the socially and spiritually enlightened trailblazers who released some of the most innovative, genre-breaking albums of the ‘90s and early 2000s.
Story (which begins streaming on Apple TV+ April 24) is billed as a “Live Documentary Experience,” which is pretty much exactly what it is: A lightly edited rendering of surviving members Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Roc” Horowitz's 2019 appearance at Kings Theatre in Brooklyn as part of a select speaking tour to promote 2019’s bestselling Beastie Boys Book.
It also makes sense that the pair would enlist their longtime friend and collaborator Spike Jonze to direct; years before he made his name with films like Being John Malkovich, Her, and Where The Wild Things Are, he was a BMX bandit and scrappy skate photographer who helmed some of the Beasties’ most memorable music videos, including 1992’s “Sabotage.”
With the help of a drop screen and various multimedia effects, Jonze unfurls Story in three “chapters,” tilted heavily toward origin: The group's beginnings as punk-rock kids fascinated by the emergence of a then-nascent genre known as hip-hop; their partnership with future industry icons Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons in the early days of Def Jam; a messy tour with Madonna; the party-monster reputation that started as an inside joke, then morphed into frat-boy reality.
The duo's recounting of how they rejected all that, and their reflections on the wildly fertile era ushered in by the sonic experimentation of now-seminal albums like Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head, are some of the movie’s most illuminating, though the format itself does seem limiting, mostly in its lack of intimacy; how much rapport can you develop with any film camera when you're also speaking to the balcony?
At times too, the format can feel knowingly, almost endearingly corny; a sort of deluxe story hour for grownups, read by two of Brooklyn’s coolest Cool Dads. But it’s consistently entertaining too, and even genuinely moving — particularly when Horowitz, recalling memories of Yauch, has to pause or pass the mic entirely to pull himself together.
If the movie itself is an imperfect document of the Beasties as a band, it's moments like those that deliver something sweeter, at least for the faithful: a pleasingly shambolic Story of three Boys, and the better men they came to be. B+