The Most Beautiful Fraud: It’s All Gone Pete Tong
In the cutthroat world of the DJ, fame can come in a second and go in half that time. Those who make it to the very top do so only because they possess a brilliance of technique combined with an understanding of crowds that no one else can touch. Frankie Wilde was one of those greats until deafness (caused by a genetic defect and exacerbated by years of blaring beats) sidelined him; but, amazingly, he made a comeback after teaching himself how to ‘feel’ the music and became better than ever before finally vanishing immediately after his triumphant comeback. It’s an amazing story that just begged to be made into a movie.
Or, at least, it would have if it were true.
It’s All Gone Pete Tong, the new mock-biopic of DJ Frankie Wilde, is at its best when it tries to make you laugh. (The title, incidentally, is Cockney rhyming slang for “it’s all gone wrong” – or perhaps not so incidentally, when you consider that Pete Tong, who really is a legendary DJ, is also the executive producer of the film.) And, in fact, many of the most amusing moments are the ones that tip you off the most that Frankie Wilde is just a figment of writer/director Michael Dowse’s imagination: the asinine quotes proffered by Wilde at press conference and in interviews; the loopy ideas he comes up with to ‘cure’ his deafness (including strapping a brace of fireworks to his head, which leads to one of the funniest bits of physical comedy in the movie); and a hilarious performance by Dan Antopolski as the calculating and callous record company executive who fired, and then re-hired, the “deaf DJ”. And though the humor occasionally falls flat (as with the constant reappearance of “Coke Badger”, the embodiment of Wilde’s gargantuan drug habit, which comes across more like the woozy hallucinations that help shipwreck Trainspotting), it’s still a real winner as a comedy, with plenty of quotable lines and a deft combination of American and British styles of humor – appropriate, as it’s a Canadian production.
Where it all goes, well, Pete Tong is when it takes itself seriously. As the film progresses, it becomes something of a feel-good slice of bathos: the handicapped artist who overcomes his disability, the climb from despair to victory, the conquest of a near-fatal drug habit with the love of a good woman. We’ve seen it all before, and what the movie needs desperately to do is skewer those trite plot points, not embrace them. The triumph over tragedy seems a bit hollow when it’s used to portray someone who didn’t actually exist; and when the movie spends a good three-quarters of its running time trying to convince us that Frankie Wilde is a shallow, repulsive jackass, it’s hard to make us care when something bad happens to him, or root for him to make good his comeback vow. If Dowse had had a real story to tell about the real tribulations of a real deaf DJ, he could have done it quite well without all the laughs; and if he simply wanted to make a funny movie that goofs on the celebrity of DJs and the overstuffed decadence of rave culture, he could have done that well and jettisoned all the pointless soap-opera stuff.
Still, It’s All Gone Pete Tong is definitely worth a look. When it’s funny – which is, after all, most of the movie, right up until the hilarious last line – it’s very funny, and the cast is top-notch in whichever mode the script requires them to play. Paul Kaye, as Frankie Wilde, is tremendous: all nervous, twitchy, broad-eyed energy even when he’s in the depths of despair. Canadian comic Mike Wilmot, as Frankie’s ultra-crass American manager Max Haggar, is a great discovery: his manic, rude performance almost manages to steal the show from Kaye, which is quite an accomplishment indeed. The film also has considerable technical virtues, from the inventive ways in which Wilde’s encroaching deafness is rendered to a spot-on incarnation of the Ibiza dance club scene. Just remind yourself, when the story strays too far from the comic elements it does best: it’s not real. That makes the misguided drama easier to take.