Fans of Green Day might find it harder to get the same rush out of the band’s music after watching this extended, self-congratulatory PR plug for the 2009 stage adaptation of their 2004 album, “American Idiot.” All their transgressive energy and ecstatic ennui, seen in here in rousing footage of past concerts, reduced to the aesthetics of “Cats”? I haven’t seen the production, and judging from reviews it may not be half bad, with Billie Joe Armstrong especially powerful in the lead role. But first-time director Doug Hamilton does it no favors with this high-beam piffle passing as a “making of” documentary.
Who knew putting together a Broadway show could be such a love fest, without the clash of artistic ideas that is the making or breaking of a successful show? From concept to opening night just one, nonstop, montaged litany of people extolling one another’s virtues and saying things like “I never thought I’d end up doing Broadway!” or “I’m a theater geek – we’ve nothing in common! There’s absolutely no reason this should work!” And yet, somehow, it does!
Well, perhaps it was like that, and, if so, it just goes to show that one way to blunt the edge of an assaultive, anarchic band is to invite it to that kitschy boulevard of broken dreams, Broadway.
With MTV-like glibness, the film recounts how Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer put together a story, production numbers, and set designs to turn the album into a musical, presenting each new development to Armstrong for his approval. For example, the production’s music supervisor Tom Kitt thinks that the number “Last Night on Earth” would improve if it was presented as a “wall of sound . . . like the Beach Boys.” I’m no music critic, but I thought it bordered on sacrilege. Armstrong watches, listens, and concludes, “That was (expletive) sick! So good!” Go figure.
On the other hand, the narrative they cook up sounds no better or worse than other successful rock opera productions, such as “Tommy,” “The Wall,” or that old warhorse “Hair.” A trio of disaffected adolescents are fed up with the limitations of suburban life and head for the big city, with mixed results. It’s the old refrain of aimless teenaged rebellion butting heads with real life and the toll that takes on idealism and innocence. Banal, but with potential. If it could tap into the universal emotions plumbed by the music, a surging mix of Clash-like social and political outrage and U2-ish angst-filled anthems, and not bog down in the particulars, I’d pay the 70 bucks to see it.
But this movie doesn’t make the case. In fact, had they upped the absurdity a notch, it would rival the comedy of Christopher Guest’s let’s-put-on-a-show mockumentary, “Waiting for Guffman” (1996). As it stands, it plays like an infomercial. Every decent documentary requires an element of conflict, otherwise it’s advertising. This plugs what looks like a sellout (not in a good way) show.