Dec. 5, 2007
Sid and Nancy (1986)
Grade: 52/100

Director: Alex Cox
Stars: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, Andrew Schofield

What it's about. Based on a true story. Circa 1977, London punk Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) is recruited as the bass player in the legendary, notorious, influential band The Sex Pistols. Vicious is a poor musician, but his stage presence intrigues cynical Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren (David Hayman). Vicious is also friends with the Pistols' orange-haired singer, Johnny Rotten (Andrew Schofield).

Vicious meets and quickly falls for punk-scene groupie Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). Unfortunately, Nancy is not only homely, she's a heroin addict, and soon Vicious is as well. This makes him even more irresponsible than before. After (during?) an American tour, the Pistols disband and Vicious' solo career flounders. Sid and Nancy remain inseparable, yet are miserable. Nancy is stabbed to death in their flat. The film struggles to find an upbeat ending before closing with a terse text statement concerning Vicious' heroin overdose.

Courtney Love, best known for her marriage to Kurt Cobain and her role in The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), has a small supporting part.

How others will see it. Sid and Nancy provides minor insight into the late 1970s London punk scene. It also demonstrates that true love can be destructive instead of mutually beneficial. One doubts that viewers will care to pick up on this, but those cynically inclined may enjoy watching these minor celebrities make a train wreck of their lives.

How I felt about it. The real Johnny Rotten has discredited the film as a "fantasy." Like all historical fiction, known events (especially those sufficiently publicized to be remembered) provide a backbone, while the flesh consists of plausible dialogue based on the characters as writer/director Alex Cox sees them.

There's nothing especially wrong with this approach, particularly since it is the only way to prevent a drama from becoming a documentary. And a good documentary, The Filth and the Fury, already exists. As long as the story and dialogue appears credible, it actually isn't important whether or not it is entirely accurate.

The good news is, Sid and Nancy is credible. No attempt is made to romanticize either Sid or Nancy. Sid is a punk, a born loser, but he's not a hero, a leader, or sexy. He's a poser, a vandal, and an addict. Nancy, who comes from a middle-class American family, has presumably been mired in the alternative/punk scene since her early teens. She has acquired valuable musical connections, but all she has really learned is bad manners. And her addictions only make her even less attractive.

So, Sid and Nancy is watchable. But it isn't enjoyable, partly because Schofield-as-Rotten is a weak substitute for the real Johnny Rotten, but mostly because train wrecks lack voyeuristic appeal. A wasted life is not a glorious tragedy.