Stylish costumes, moving soundtracks, real-life heartbreak. Musical biopics are the types of films that guarantee heaping helpings of all of the above and, over the last 10 years, have become a vehicle to help re-introduce legendary artists to new fans in a light that strays from the usual confines of a VH1 or TMZ. These films are tricky endeavours and messing around with real lives on screen is always a gamble.
Casting is key but taking liberties with a script about a person’s life is always a seriously delicate venture. Remember, for every Oscar-hooking Straight Outta Compton and Walk The Line flick, there are dozens of laughing-stock projects that litter our small and big screens. (Exhibit A and B: Lifetime’s disastrous Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B and Whitney Houston’s condemnable TV movie).
Regardless of the flop risk, Hollywood is hedging its bets on a fair share of films about musicians this year. Below, six musicians who are getting the silver screen treatment.
1.Maria Callas starring Noomi Rapace
Maria Callas—the historic template of all divadom—was connected with so many other film projects and actresses (Eva Green, Eva Mendes, Celine Dion) through the years but finally a movie about her glory is slated for release this year. New Zealand director Niko Caro pilots the tale of the Greek-American soprano’s life in art, and will no doubt dive into her fiery and grandiose personal and professional relationships (it makes tele-novellas look tame). Portraying Callas will be a real stretch for Sweden’s Rapace, who comes from the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy.
Expect: Couture gowns, big furs, gilded accessories, loads of smoky eyes
2. Amy Winehouse starring Noomi Rapace
Although a sad and salacious documentary on Amy was already released last year, so many questions have yet to be answered. The British soul singer’s drug-dazed odyssey into fame and love is still loaded with gaps that this film is supposed to fill. Rapace is also cast as this icon but no word yet if any of Winehouse’s classic tracks will be re-sung for the occasion (hopefully the answer is no).
Expect: Bee-hive bouffants, red lips, fuck-me pumps
3. Janis Joplin starring Amy Adams or Nina Arianda (TBD)
Mired in legal issues, the story of one of the most (in)famous female rockers of our time has yet to be told in its entirety. Last year’s Jop doc, called Little Girl Blue is slowly getting some eyeballs (Cat Power reads Joplin’s letters in it). Sean Durkin—the man who gave us Martha Marcy May Marlene—has been tapped to direct the biopic, which is sure to surpass the documentary. Both Amy Adams and Broadway star Nina Arianda have been tied as leads. No word as to who will be Janis yet.
Expect: Ponchos, peace beads, suede, fringe
4. Nina Simone starring Zoe Saldana
The film—tentatively titled Nina—is already shot, edited and pieced together as our former cover girl, Zoe Saldana stated in our August 2014 issue. The problem is, the estate of Ms. Simone has not been very cooperative and the director and the studio have been squabbling about the last cut of the film. This is on top of mounds of backlash over the project because many Simone fans—including the empress of soul’s own daughter—feel Saldana was the wrong choice (and colour of skin). Saldana has re-recorded Simone’s best songs for the occasion, a body of work which reflects the singer’s activism, creativity, rage, mental health issues and slew of rocky marriages.
Expect: Caftans, updos, chunky bracelets, shell tiaras
5. Aretha Franklin starring Jennifer Hudson as Franklin
Like all projects connected to the Queen of soul, this film is as hard to find out about than the Detroit-born singer’s own life (much of which—including her teen pregnancy, alleged temperament and list of paramours—are shrouded in mystery). Halle Berry was a contender to star in this (Franklin wanted Halle) but Hudson’s Dream Girl pipes beat Berry to the throne. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, J-Hud.
Expect: Blinged-out dresses, satin ensembles, felt hats, mink drops
6. Freddie Mercury starring Ben Whishaw
Few men have been able to eclipse a stage like Freddy Mercury. In the ’70s and ’80s, he was rock’s own Liberace, wearing more rainbow-punched outfits than the Gaga-Katy-Beyoncé trinity put together. As the lead singer of Queen, Mercury broke gender barriers with his love of men, makeup and costume and can be counted as one of the first public figures to shine a light on AIDS/HIV awareness (he died of complications relating to AIDS in 1991). The film should open up a serious discussion on LGBTQ rights and the epically epic, drug-addled world Mercury orbited. Spectre’s Ben Whishaw—who plays Q in two James Bond films—has some mighty big platforms to fill.
Expect: Harlequin print, hot pants, tank tops, sequin onesies, hairy chests, oversized stilletos