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‘Beastie Boys Story’ Review: Spike Jonze’s Doc is Fan Service in the Best Possible Way 

Beastie Boys Story
Photo Credit: Apple TV+

The AppleTV+ exclusive Beastie Boys Story, directed by Academy Award winner Spike Jonze, documents the band’s nearly 30 year career by packaging the two surviving members’ stage show based on the Beastie Boys Book, released in 2018, in a two hour mash-up of stories, jokes, performance footage, interview snippets, vintage photographs and music videos. It’s basically the movie version of Check Your Head or Ill Communication in that nobody will like everything, but everybody will like something. 

Arguing the Beastie’s contribution to music and pop culture is silly at this point, but dissecting their recent efforts to document their career is somewhat tricky. They weren’t virtuosic musicians, incredibly skilled lyricists, great traditional song writers, comedic geniuses or fashionable dressers, but somehow they had a profound impact in all of those areas. To use a few cliché’s, the Beastie Boys were always “bigger than the sum of their parts” and explaining their impact to anybody not old enough to witness their run ultimately falls into “you had to be there” territory. This is why the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to their book and documentary will resonate with long-time fans but may struggle to find an audience with people that are unfamiliar with their work. 

Beastie Boys Story presents a lot of information that will be incredibly new and exciting for fans that didn’t read their previously mentioned book. People that did read the book will see one of the most unorthodox band histories in recent years brought to life on stage. Fanatics will love the old interviews, performance footage and behind-the-scenes stuff, while more casual fans might find it unnecessary if they read the book recently. Despite there not being much new information in the film, it is undeniably cool to see the band in action as wild NYC teenagers, partying during the early days of Def Jam and on classic television shows like Soul Train and American Bandstand

As a documentary, the two main issues with the film are its pacing and tone. There is a full hour dedicated to their early days and the Licensed to Ill era, about half of that dedicated to the ’90s and almost no mention of their 2000s creative output and side projects. This is somewhat odd considering how much they’ve tried to distance themselves from their first album. Another documentary about the lasting effects of the Beastie aesthetic and their influence on pop culture would be welcome. 

The live show was taped in front of a large crowd and a lot of the on-stage anecdotes and video clips are played for laughs. Some of this is legitimately funny, like the “Sabotage” video or ’80s celebrities like Joan Rivers reacting to their antics. However, some of this is awkward and not that entertaining at all, like watching them be rude to journalists or letting inside jokes like Nathaniel Hornblower (spoiler alert it’s MCA) drag on for about 20 years too long.

The Beastie Boys were always the coolest kids in the room, but watching the Beastie Men do a Vegas-Style night club act about their wild past will be as shocking to 90’s kids as Ice-T playing a police officer on network television, Ice Cube making family movies, or Snoop Dogg cooking with Martha Stewart. It’s not to say they are bad at their new roles, but it will take a minute to adjust to seeing the guys that made anti-conformist anthems perform in this capacity. Similar shows have worked for Henry Rollins and Mike Tyson and seeing this growth and maturity is part of the reason to watch. 

Despite all of the laughs, there are several serious segments about Adam Yauch’s contribution to the band and untimely death in 2012. His musicianship, social consciousness, varied interests, and ability to push the envelope creatively verify his place in history as a true Renaissance man. He not only charted the course for the band, but, in doing so, he had a profound impact on an entire generation as well. It’s clear that MCA will be missed, and it makes sense why Mike D and Ad-Rock decided to cease being the “Beastie Boys” when he passed away. 

Beastie Boys Story is a great companion piece to their book, a must-watch for fans and a good history lesson for younger kids that have grown up in a world where hip-hop, punk, funk, skateboarding, basketball, comedy, fashion, sampling, live instruments, and combining disparate elements to create something beautiful is commonly accepted to learn where a lot of our current “mash-up” culture started. The Beastie Boys were a great band. Spike Jonze is a great director. Beastie Boys Story is a good documentary. 

Beastie Boys Story is currently streaming on Apple TV+.

Angelo Gingerelli
Angelo Gingerellihttp://fifthroundmovement.com/
Angelo Gingerelli has been contributing to The Pop Break since 2015 and writing about pop culture since 2009. A Jersey shore native, Gingerelli is a writer, stand-up comic, hip-hop head, sneaker enthusiast, comic book fan, husband, father and supporter of the local arts scene. He likes debating the best rappers of all time, hates discussing why things were better in the “Good Ol’ Days” and loves beating The Pop Break staff at fantasy football. You can catch up with Angelo on Twitter/IG at https://twitter.com/Mr5thround, at his website www.FifthRoundMovement.com or interviewing rising stars in NJ’s Hip-Hop scene on “The A&R Podcast” (iTunes/SoundCloud).


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