I Used To Be Famous (2022) review: The Netflix film is about two friends
Based on Eddie Sternberg’s short film of the same name, I Used To Be Famous tells the story of Vince and Stevie, two guys from very different backgrounds who develop an unexpected friendship.
After a great early career, Vince (Ed Skrien), a former boy band member, finds himself in difficult circumstances. He now performs as a street performer in London to raise money, but despite his past fame, few people know him or his skills.
A young man named Stevie (newcomer Leo Long) wants to go to music school. Unfortunately, because Stevie is autistic, his overly protective mother, Amber, is skeptical about his aspirations.
The likelihood of them both having a happy future is minimal, but Vince realizes that Stevie’s skills as a drummer could give him a second chance at fame when the young guy joins him for an impromptu jam session and his musical skills demonstrated.
Main cast of I Used To Be Famou
Amber agrees to let her child play with Vince at a gig when Vince talks her into it, but when things go horribly wrong, she prevents him from ever seeing her son again. Vince and Stevie, both recognizing their own potential for musical greatness, find this devastating. However, Vince is able to persuade Amber to reconsider, giving him a chance to reconnect with Stevie. But Vince finds himself in an awkward position when he’s offered the opportunity to perform alongside a former bandmate who has built a great career.
I’m not going to give any spoilers here, but if you’re interested in finding out more you can read our post about the end of the film or watch it for yourself. Of course, it’s possible that you care more about the quality of the film and how it deals with autism than the end result.
I’m happy to say that despite a tragic plot point that’s part of Vince’s journey, the film is a fairly nice film, with strong performances from Skrien and Long and a plot that’s not overtly emotional. The two main actors, who both had a musical career outside of acting, are responsible for the outstanding musical moments.
I’m also happy to say that I Used to Be Famous treats autism sensitively without hurting. Leo Long, who is making his acting debut in the film, is genuinely autistic. He was cast in the right way because he brings authenticity to the performance, rather than relying on the exaggerated tics and twitches neurotypical performers Maddie Ziegler and Dustin Hoffman exhibited when playing autistic characters in Rain Man and Music, respectively. With its flawed portrayal of autistic behaviors, the latter film was particularly uncomfortable and rightly criticized for its antiquated views of the condition.
Long isn’t the only neurodivergent actor in the film; The filmmaker also selected a number of other neurodivergent performers to play the members of Stevie’s music therapy group. It’s nice to see a filmmaker making such intelligent casting decisions. In doing so, Sternberg not only avoided accusations of inauthentic casting, but also gave an actor like Long a chance to demonstrate that people with autism should not be neglected because of their disability.
The young actor leaves an impression on his debut and promises a successful and long career as an actor or musician (or both).
But despite all the advantages, the film falls short of its potential, among other things, because the narrative is not consistently convincing. For example, although Amber has vehemently warned Vince to avoid her son, she’s quick to let him back into Stevie’s life. In a different scenario from the film, Vince is asked to take over as the instructor in Stevie’s music therapy class when he manages to help one of the students. The teacher’s quick handover of control to Vince, a new member of the class, doesn’t seem entirely believable in this breakthrough scenario.
However, since Vince and Stevie’s relationship is what matters most in this situation, it’s easy to overlook those imperfections. Both are likeable personalities who were not created with stereotypes. Therefore, while some of the storylines they are involved in are implausible, we can still have confidence in their friendship as they both appear as real individuals, not fictional characters.
I Used To Be Famous is a good film with many heartwarming scenes and a tearful ending. Although the script should have been stronger, the compelling leads and moving narrative make up for it.
How did Vince and Stevie meet?
Unlike Austin, a successful former bandmate, Vince’s musical career ended when his boy band disbanded. Vince is now playing music on the streets to make ends meet, but viewers don’t seem to appreciate his skills.
When Stevie decides to jam with him on a bench, his luck takes a turn for the better. Stevie plays the bank like a drum and demonstrates his skills as a drummer.
Stevie is the reason a crowd forms around her, shooting the two cast members on their smartphones. When Stevie’s mother, Amber, arrives, she snatches him away, but Vince later sees Stevie when he sees him walking into a church hall with his mother.
It is here that he first sees Stevie’s music therapy group, where he also gets a second chance to see the teen’s gifts. Vince accepts Dia’s invitation to join them and joins the group’s drumming session.
Later, Vince finds out that his and Stevie’s performances on the bench are featured in their viral videos. He uses this as a bargaining chip to secure a gig at a neighborhood bar, but since he hasn’t invited Stevie onto the stage yet, his next step is to win the boy’s favor.
Will the gig continue?
Eventually, when Vince gets to Stevie and Amber’s, he is let in for tea and jam. After Stevie tells them about the performance, she’s thrilled, but protective Amber isn’t exactly keen on letting Stevie perform in front of a large audience, concerned for her son’s safety.
Stevie experiences a panic episode following Vince and Amber’s argument. Amber is impressed by Vince’s ability to calm him down by mimicking the music therapy group’s drumming exercises. Because of this, she reluctantly accepts the job.
As Stevie and Vince rehearse their upcoming performance, Vince learns more about Stevie’s love of music and his desire to attend music college.
On the day of the performance, Vince and Stevie take the stage after another act has ended. The two put on a wonderful performance, but when Vince decides to sing one song too many, some viewers get restless. One man is particularly violent and pokes fun at Stevie’s use of pots and pans as drums.
After hitting the man, Vince and Stevie are thrown out of the bar. When Austin, invited by Vince to the gig, sees his old bandmate getting up off the sidewalk, the humiliating situation becomes even more embarrassing.
After telling Austin to leave, Vince goes over to check on Stevie. Unfortunately, Amber is upset and orders Vince to avoid her son at all costs.
Vince is he avoiding Stevie?
When Vince is informed that he cannot see Stevie, he is devastated and returns home.
Here we learn a bit more about Vince’s past. We witness the amateur band he and his younger brother Ted formed as children as he plays home videos of them. We then discover through flashbacks that Ted later died and that Vince was unable to visit his brother in the hospital due to his obligations to his band.
Vince goes to his mother to ask about his brother’s harmonica because it’s obvious he still feels bad about what happened. She admits with emotion that she is not sure of his whereabouts.
Stevie makes flyers for her band The Tin Men and secures a gig.
Vince gets the good news when Stevie contacts him, but Vince is reluctant to move on because of Amber’s feelings. Vince later apologizes to Amber for what happened when he meets the two outside of the church, having just been instructed by Stevie to do so for Vince.
The three attend music therapy group after he apologizes and Amber shows some more tolerance for their relationship. Since Vince is revealed to have the ability to bond with the students, he is invited to lead the group at this point.
When Austin later contacts Vince, Vince has to make a different decision after considering the proposal.
Why did Austin contact Vince?
Austin realizes that Vince still has what it takes to perform on stage after watching a video of him and Stevie performing on stage, and he asks Vince if he would like to play a few songs during his farewell tour.
Vince agrees and is excited about his second chance at fame, but becomes discouraged when Dennis, Austin’s producer, informs him that Stevie won’t be coming on stage with him.
Vince breaks the terrible news to Stevie. Although the young man seems disappointed, he advises Vince to try it anyway because he might not get another chance at fame.
Vince, does he prefer fame to friendship?
Stevie practices his drums for music college while Vince prepares to tour with Austin.
Amber thanks Vince for helping her son and giving him the friendship he needed after realizing it was preventing Stevie from achieving his goals. However, she warns him not to approach Stevie as she doesn’t want him to mislead her son at this point in his life.
One would conclude that this would encourage Vince to turn down Stevie in favor of the farewell tour with Austin. Dennis later gives him a contract, but he chooses to focus on his friendship with Stevie rather than accepting it and pursuing his second chance at fame.
The young man and his mother find pinned-up notes on the street with directions meant for them on the day of Stevie’s birthday. After getting their VIP seats, they are shocked to find Vince because the posters direct them to a small music stage. Stevie is invited onto the stage after singing a special song for her. There they perform with other artists, including those from the music therapy group.
The film ends abruptly, but it’s safe to assume that Vince accepted the apprenticeship he was offered and kept in touch with Stevie.