' Cinema Romantico: Talk to Me

Monday, July 16, 2007

Talk to Me

Ah yes, the biopic. How many times has one of these sorts of movies been attempted? A million and two? And how often do they fail? Here and there. How often do they succeed? Rarely. But how often do they just kind of skirt that middle ground? Not particulary terrible but certainly no better than average? Often. And "Talk to Me", which recounts the story of famed Washington D.C. talk radio dee jay Petey Green, skirts that middle ground.

Petey Green was a disc jockey in Washington D.C. in the 60's who hosted a morning talk show in which he pretty much said whatever was on his mind and that essentially set the stage for Howard Stern and everyone else. The movie recounts his story as local radio program director Dewey Hughes visits his brother in jail and is approached by Green who at that point is incarcerated himself but doing uproarious radio broadcasts for his fellow inmates.

Once Green has conned his way out of jail he shows up at Dewey's radio station asking about the job he was "promised". Needless to say, Green eventually wins over Dewey, gets on the air and becomes a legend. And Dewey, for better and for worse, becomes determined to make Petey something more.

Biopics that work do so because they choose to be something beyond a History Channel chronology of events. "Without Limits" told the story of distance runner Steve Prefontaine so damn well by making his lone Olympic race the crux - everything that comes before and after is affected by it. Likewise "Walk the Line" worked by focusing on the love story between Johnny and June. But "Talk to Me" - like so many other biopics - takes only the key peaks and valleys of Petey Green's life and retells them. And that's kind of what I was expecting to see when I entered the theater.

The film is certainly well made (I especially enjoyed the tracking shot as Petey and Dewey march to the dee jay booth for his first broadcast with "Hold On, I'm Coming" on the soundtrack) but does not go above and beyond.

And make no mistake, Don Cheadle is fantastic as Petey Green. He will get all the attention, of course, but the very underrated Chiwetel Ejiofor is his equal as Dewey Hughes. There is a scene in which the two men play a game of pool and I will say no more except to say this is a fantastic moment, the highlight of the film. This is when the script shuns merely restaging history and gets deeper by giving us true characterization.

I wanted more scenes like that one. That's when the film upped its ante and stopped being simply what I expected. Unfortunately, it didn't take on that quality enough.

2 comments:

Wretched Genius said...

How can you talk of biopics without mentioning the biopic master himself?

Raging Bull
Goodfellas
The Aviator

Now THAT'S how a biopic is made!

Cinema Romantico said...

Touche. Well, except for The Aviator. I didn't really like that one.

Raging Bull and Goodfellas, though, are at that level of so-great that I never even really think about how to categorize them.